CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford said center Al Jefferson has been cleared by doctors and will play against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Clifford made the surprising announcement prior to Monday's game.
Jefferson has missed the past nine games with a groin injury and was expected to be out at least another week.
Clifford said Jefferson would play in a reserve role for now behind Bismack Biyombo and see about 14-16 minutes of action. Biyombo will continue to start until Jefferson rounds back into shape.
Clifford said ideally he would have liked to have given Jefferson a chance to go through a full contact practice, but the Hornets' schedule doesn't allow for that opportunity.
''The thing is Al is cleared and if we don't do it this way and I wait until we have contact in practice, he wouldn't play until a week from Wednesday,'' Clifford said. ''So to me it makes more sense to throw him in there now and see what he can handle physically and go from there.''
Jefferson is averaging 18 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Jefferson's return is good news for the Hornets, who are still without point guard Kemba Walker for the second straight game. Walker is recovering from a cyst on his left knee.
Charlotte managed just 80 points in an overtime win over Indiana on Saturday night.
Clifford said it's unclear when Walker will be back. Brian Roberts will start at point guard.
Walker had been averaging 29.8 points in the six games before missing Saturday night's game against Indiana.
Still, Charlotte has won six of its past seven games. The Hornets look to build on that momentum against Minnesota, which enters the game with the worst record in the Western Conference.
Jannero Pargo is also out with a back injury which means Gary Neal will see additional playing time at point guard.