Back in Minneapolis, when point guard Mo Williams first caught wind of a possible trade, he started checking out the Charlotte Hornets’ roster and day-dreaming.
“I liked this roster,” Williams said after finishing with 23 points and seven assists in a 103-94 home victory over the Toronto Raptors. “You think you can have an impact that translates to wins.”
And so he has. Since Williams’ arrival in Charlotte the Hornets are 5-3. They are now on a four-game winning streak after what became a chippy game at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The Raptors, who have now lost six in a row to Charlotte, never led. But they threatened to win this one until midway through the fourth quarter when the Hornets spent the game’s last seven minutes in the bonus situation on fouls.
Every time the Raptors shrunk a double-digit lead to four or fewer points it seemed Williams made a 3-pointer. He made four of the Hornets’ five 3-point shots Friday.
He also collaborated brilliantly with center Al Jefferson in the pick-and-roll, Jefferson finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Jefferson previously played with Williams in Utah and their synergy is hard to miss.
“I say one thing and he automatically (grasps) what I’m doing,” Williams described. “He reads me so well I’ll just scoot over a couple of steps and the ball will be right there.”
This trade – the Hornets got Williams and shooting guard Troy Daniels for veteran Gary Neal – has worked out spectacularly. The Hornets will get back Kemba Walker from knee surgery soon and then coach Steve Clifford plans to use Walker and Williams some together.
Jefferson had said the blowout win Wednesday over the Brooklyn Nets would be meaningless if they were flat against the Raptors. Toronto has struggled lately and coach Dwane Casey had issued an “enough is enough” proclamation to his players regarding Charlotte’s recent dominance in this series.
“We knew they hadn’t been playing well lately so they were going to be ready to play,” Jefferson said. “Right now anything we’re doing, we have to do. We’ve just go to do it.”
At 27-33 the Hornets’ margin for error the rest of the season is small. As Clifford said afterward, “There’s a disaster lurking around every corner. That’s the reality of the NBA.”
And yet this win, combined with the Miami Heat’s loss to the Washington Wizards, made the Hornets seventh in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Indiana Pacers.
The Hornets had a lot of answers Friday, some of them from an unexpected resource. Reserve guard Lance Stephenson finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists. It was just his second time reaching 10 points in 16 games, his fourth game in double figures since Dec. 14.
“”He got going tonight, made some great plays,” Jefferson said. “We’re going to need him down the stretch.”
Stephenson was one of six players assessed technical fouls Friday, all of them levied by lead official Joey Crawford.
“It was a chippy game,” Williams said. “They got physical and we got physical. We didn’t back down, and I like that.”
“And Joey doesn’t take any mess.”