CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On a night when Charlotte coach Steve Clifford called in sick, Kemba Walker turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for the Hornets.
Walker returned after missing the previous two games with a shoulder injury and scored 29 points as the Hornets snapped a four-game losing streak with a 104-94 victory over the Orlando Magic on Monday.
Associate head coach Stephen Silas, who subbed as Clifford stayed home with an undisclosed illness, said that Walker’s return was the key to the game.
“Kemba was obviously awesome,” Silas said. “To have him back, he’s our leader, and he made some great plays on both ends. We were really excited to have him out there leading us again. ... He wasn’t going to let us lose tonight, and that was special. We missed it the last few games.”
Walker was a perfect 14 of 14 from the free-throw line, part of a collective effort which saw the Hornets go to the line 40 times to Orlando’s 14. The Hornets made 33, Orlando 12.
“It’s very hard to get to the line that many times, especially if you’re Kemba’s size,” Silas said. “But we stayed in the pick-and-roll, he got out in transition some and was able to run. Cliff always says if we can run in the fourth (quarter), that’s good for us. Especially against a team that played yesterday. So (Walker) was able to get out and get in transition and get to the free-throw line.”
The Hornets led 75-74 going into the fourth quarter but pulled away down the stretch. The key stretch may have come when the Hornets had what amounted to a six-point play.
With the Hornets leading 79-76, Frank Kaminsky dunked with 9:15 remaining. Orlando’s Marreese Speights was called for a flagrant-1 foul against Cody Zeller after the dunk as the two battled for position, and Zeller hit two free throws. Then Jeremy Lamb hit two free throws on the ensuing possession for an 85-76 lead.
The Hornets (9-13) went on to lead by as many as 12 from there.
Kaminsky finished with 14 points. The Hornets also got 12 each from Lamb and Dwight Howard, who moved past Paul Silas into No. 19 on the NBA’s career rebound list after grabbing nine boards on the night. Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 11 each, and Batum had 11 rebounds.
“We stuck with the game,” Walker said. “Early on it was kind of sluggish and slow, then at the end of the second quarter we kinda picked it up and we moved the basketball and moved ourselves as well. We got great shots. Offensively, we played pretty well. Defensively, we played well as well.
“We have to continue to play great defense so we can play great offense. Whenever we win, it’s because we’re playing some great defense. Our defense leads to our offense.”
The Magic (10-15) were led by Evan Fournier’s 18 points. Jonathon Simmons scored 15, Aaron Gordon scored 14, D.J. Augustin 13, Elfrid Payton 11 and Nikola Vucevic 10. Orlando had 20 turnovers in addition to going to the line 26 fewer times than the Hornets.
“We turned the ball over too much,” Magic coach Frank Vogel said. “We let them get to the free-throw line too much. You can’t do that on the road and expect to get a W. It’s disappointing. You know we’ve got to take care of the ball. It cost us the win tonight.”
Augustin said: “It’s a tough loss. A game like that, we felt like we should have won, so to not get it done hurts. We can’t turn the ball over, especially against a team like that who’s got a lot of firepower. We can’t turn the ball over. We’ve got to play better on offense and just stay together.”
NOTES: The Hornets won the only previous game between the teams this season, 120-113 in Charlotte on Oct. 29. The teams will also meet in Orlando on Feb. 14 and April 6. ... The Hornets have now won nine straight over the Magic over the last three seasons. ... The Hornets were without G Julyan Stone (illness). ... The Magic were without F Jonathan Isaac (sprained right ankle) and F Terrence Ross (sprained right MCL). ... The Hornets had been idle since a 105-100 loss at Miami on Friday, while the Magic were doubling back from a 105-100 win at New York on Sunday. ... The Magic will return home to face Atlanta on Wednesday. ... The Hornets were starting a four-game homestand, all this week. They will host Golden State on Wednesday, Chicago on Friday and the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday.