Earlier this season, after his career-high 52-point game as a Minnesota Timberwolf, point guard Mo Williams wondered why close friend Al Jefferson hadn’t called with congratulations.
Jefferson explained he hadn’t called because he expects such feats from Williams. Just like he expected what has happened since the trade that brought Williams to Charlotte.
That’s five games and five terrific offensive performances. Williams finished with 23 points and 11 assist to lead the Hornets past the Orlando Magic 98-83 Sunday at the Amway Center.
This easily could have been another troubling loss to a team headed to the draft lottery. The Hornets committed 16 turnovers, more than enough to get them beaten. But Williams’ 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range and his work in the pick-and-roll, particularly with Cody Zeller, held off the Magic after Orlando cut an 11-point deficit to four midway through the fourth quarter.
Williams has scored 17 or more points in all five of his games since the trade that effectively swapped him for Gary Neal (with Troy Daniels as a throw-in). The Hornets (24-33) needed a fill-in while Kemba Walker recovers from knee surgery. Williams has been that and a whole lot more.
“I certainly didn’t expect him to score like this so consistently,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford. “I thought he would play smart and he’s very verbal with his teammates. Now he’s getting comfortable. He has been so efficient offensively.”
Sunday that wasn’t just shooting. He found Zeller (7-of-10 with 16 points) for a series of dunks off the pick-and-roll that made the game look so easy.
“He has a great feel for the game,” said Zeller. “If I’m open, he’s going to find me.”
Williams is known for being a quick study, having played for eight NBA franchises. Clifford said the quick synergy he has created with Zeller is illustrative of that.
“Mo has a really good comfort level with Marvin (Williams) from playing with him” in Utah, Clifford said. “So with both the (power forwards) his pick-and-roll game was good.”
Williams was quick to share the credit.
“The coaches and my teammates deserve a lot of the credit,” Williams said. “They made it real easy; coaches got me prepared and that’s what makes the transition comfortable and easy.”
Williams said teams have been playing off him more initially with the Hornets, encouraging him to take 3s. Once he made two of his four long-range attempts Sunday, the Magic got up on him, which led to the drives and kicks to Zeller and others.
The other significant factor in Sunday’s victory was much improved team defense. In particular, the Hornets contained Orlando center Nikola Vucevic, who made things miserable for the then-Bobcats last season.
Vucevic finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, but several of his points came after the game was decided in the fourth quarter. At one point he was 2-of-8 from the field for four points.
“Thank God for me,” Jefferson said of Vucevik’s night. “We basically (guarded) him the way other teams do me” by physically forcing him away from his preferred spots to catch the ball.
“I’ve watched that kid from when he was a rookie. He’s an All-Star/superstar in this league. We can’t make it easy for him. I remember him grabbing 20 rebounds last season. He’s a smart player, a talented player. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell