Walker powers Hornets past Magic
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kemba Walker and Dwight Howard are still getting accustomed to playing with each other, but the early returns continue to be impressive.
Walker had a season-high 34 points and 10 assists, and Howard chipped in 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Charlotte Hornets to a 120-113 victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday night at the Spectrum Center.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he was extremely pleased with the way that Walker, the Hornets’ All-Star guard, and Howard, an eight-time All-Star acquired from Atlanta in the offseason, have bonded and learned to complement each other already.
Clifford equated the chemistry, particularly in the pick and roll, to his days in Orlando as an assistant when Howard teamed with Jameer Nelson.
“I know that they’re communicating constantly,” Clifford said. “They are talking during practice, they’re texting at night, talking about different things. They were having discussions tonight. I think this is how Dwight looked with Jameer. They constantly communicated. And I think as the year goes on, their level of comfort or efficiency will be one of the big keys to our team.”
Walker finished 15 of 25 from the field with two 3-pointers on a night when the Hornets shot 54.1 percent from the field. With his 10 assists and six rebounds, he came up just shy of his first triple-double of the season.
“I was just being aggressive,” Walker said. “Just trying to make the best play possible. Getting into the lane, I had some opportunities to score and I also had some opportunities to dish the ball to my teammates. Dwight did such a great job of rolling, and he’s attracting so much attention, he’s the one who got all our teammates open tonight. A lot of my assists came because of him, honestly.”
Walker was at his best after the Hornets saw a 16-point third quarter lead dwindle all the way to three in the fourth. On consecutive possessions, he hit a 3-pointer and had a three-point play, then he fed Marvin Williams for a layup and a 103-94 lead. Orlando never seriously challenged again.
“He’s just so good,” Clifford said. “I mean, we get a shot every time he goes pick and roll. And if they double-team him, we get a shot, too. Jeff Van Gundy told him when we played Boston, everyone’s talking about Kyrie Irving, but he’s right there, too. He’s really good. I mean, he’s not just good. He’s like really, really good.”
The Hornets (3-3) bounced back from a 109-93 loss to Houston on Friday night.
Jeremy Lamb added 20 points and seven assists, Williams finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 10.
The Magic (4-2) had a three-game winning streak snapped. They were coming off an impressive 114-87 win over San Antonio on Friday night when they shot 57.1 percent from the field, but they were cold for the most part Sunday. They finished shooting 42.3 percent from the field, after shooting just 34 percent in the first half.
“Credit Charlotte,” Magic coach Frank Vogel said. “They’re a terrific defensive team. They’re really tied together. Coach Clifford does a great job with them, and they really take you out of some stuff. They took us out of our stuff tonight.”
Jonathon Simmons came off the bench to lead the Magic with 27 points. Evan Fournier scored 23, Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross scored 17 each, and Nikola Vucevic finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds but was just six of 18 from the field.
“The sense of urgency, I don’t think it was there for us this night,” Gordon said. “Just lackadaisical. We weren’t finding our man. We were letting them get too many second-chance points, and that’ll kill you. We just weren’t doing the little stuff.”
NOTES: The Hornets got C Cody Zeller back after he missed the first five games with a right knee bone bruise. But they were without G Nic Batum (sprained left elbow), G Michael Carter-Williams (knee soreness), G Julyan Stone (strained left hamstring), and F Frank Kaminsky (illness). ... The Magic were without G Elfrid Payton (strained left hamstring), F Jonathan Isaac (illness) and F Adreian Payne (fractured left hand). ... The Hornets transferred C Mangok Mathiang to the D-League with the return of Zeller. Mathiang had appeared in just one game. ... The Magic came into the game second in the NBA in points per game, averaging 118.0. They were also second in field goal percentage at .498. ... Hornets C Dwight Howard came into the game leading the NBA in rebounding at 17.6. But his streak of five straight games with at least 15 rebounds came to an end, as he finished with 10 boards. ... The Hornets were closing out a three-game homestand. They will play at Memphis on Monday in their first set of back-to-backs this season. ... The Magic were starting a three-game road trip. They will play at New Orleans on Monday, then will go to Memphis on Wednesday. Sunday’s game started a stretch of 11 road games in their next 16 games.