What we witnessed Sunday night at Spectrum Center was pick-and-roll heaven; in fact, it was pick-apart heaven.
The Charlotte Hornets shot 54 percent from the field in a 120-113 victory over what had been a red-hot Orlando Magic team. The major theme of this one was the growing synergy between point guard Kemba Walker and new center Dwight Howard.
Those two shot a combined 24-of-38 from the field, accounting for 56 points. Hornets coach Steve Clifford so liked what he saw from those two that he compared it to the relationship Howard had with then-Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, when Orlando was in title contention nearly a decade ago.
Walker had season highs in both points (34) and assists (10). The Hornets (3-3) shot 60 percent from 2-point range, much of that resulting from Howard dunking for most of his 22 points. It seemed like Howard scored off more lob passes Sunday than the Hornets threw all last season.
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The Hornets had a season-high 31 assists, on 53 made baskets. This pretty much defined offensive efficiency six games into Walker and Howard playing together.
“I know they’re communicating constantly, talking during practice,” Clifford said post-game. “I know they’re texting at night, talking about different things.
“As the year goes on and especially right now until Nic (Batum) gets back, their level of comfort or efficiency playing with each other will be one of the big keys for our team.”
Walker said in the preseason he’s never played with a center quite like Howard: So big, so explosive. It was key when Al Jefferson was here to get him the ball in the post, but this is a different dynamic: Less old-school head fakes, more jarring picks and percussion at the rim.
Walker was four rebounds short of a triple-double Sunday. Howard had 10 rebounds and shot 9-of-13 from the field. So, yes, it was reminiscent of Howard’s back-in-the-day experiences with Nelson.
“Kemba is an amazing player, and Jameer (now with the New Orleans Pelicans) is still an amazing player to me,” Howard said. “We have a chance to do something really special here. We’re on the same page, and it’s going to stay that way.
“I’ve played with some of the best in this game: The Kobe (Bryants), the James Hardens. The reason why me and him are successful is we’ve taken the pride-and-ego issue away. When we come to work, we come to work together.”
Egos have not been a problem for the Hornets the past few seasons. Walker is about as humble as an All-Star player can be. Others, like Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, set an example of unselfishness that establishes a culture.
Howard has been through some humbling times, playing for three different teams in as many seasons. The idea when the Hornets traded for him in June was Clifford (who coached Howard with the Magic and Lakers) would know how best to manage the dynamic.
Howard is still learning how to best merge with his point guard. It’s just as challenging for Walker to figure out Howard.
“We’re getting close,” Walker said post-game. “We talk a lot and I watch a lot of film of myself in pick-and-roll situations with him.
“It’s an adjustment period for me: Throwing lobs, and stuff like that I’ve never really done. I’ve never played with a guy like him, who can really go up and get the basketball. It’s fun.”
Sunday night it looked fun enough to replicate again and again and again.