Anyone who thinks Jannero Pargo’s 16 fourth-quarter points was a fluke would get an argument from Pargo’s coach.
“I was going to go back with Brian (Roberts) with five or six minutes left, but Jannero was playing so well,” coach Steve Clifford said of the Charlotte Hornets’ 99-97 exhibition victory over the Orlando Magic.
“This won’t be the last time.”
Pargo, a 10-season veteran, is the Hornets’ third point guard. The starter, Kemba Walker, was back in the training room after banging knees with Magic rookie Elfrid Payton. Pargo didn’t play in the first three quarters, but he sure didn’t look cold, making six of 10 shots from the field and two of four from 3-point range.
Clifford is constantly talking about how valuable Pargo is. Monday night that was about more than his locker room demeanor.
“Just staying ready, staying alert those first three quarters,” Pargo said. “And my teammates do a great job of screening for me and giving me the ball. They’re very unselfish in that sense, looking for me, trying to get me open.
“That was definitely fun. Kemba, when he went out, said, ‘Be ready! Do what you do!’ ”
Walker left the game in the third quarter, never to return. After the game he said he might need a couple of days off, but that he didn’t consider the knee bruise serious.
What Pargo started in the fourth quarter center Al Jefferson finished, blocking Payton’s driving layup in the final second of the game. Lance Stephenson grabbed the rebound.
This was an uneven performance by the rebranded Hornets, playing for the first in Time Warner Cable Arena. They had a tremendous first quarter offensively, making 15 of 24 shots. Stephenson had two early assists, illustrating why Clifford believes the free-agent shooting guard can compensate for the lost ballhandling of forward Josh McRoberts, now with the Miami Heat.
Jefferson finished with 20 points and four rebounds. He didn’t shoot as well as he would have hoped (8-of-20), but he looked more comfortable operating in the low block than he did in the previous two exhibitions.
Clifford says uneven is to be expected with all the change in the offseason.
“What’s evident is that we have a lot of new guys,” Clifford said. “It’s going to take some time.”
One thing that clearly pleased Clifford was the play of Charlotte’s bench. Gary Neal continued his strong preseason with 10 points off 5-of-10 shooting, plus three assists. Power forward Cody Zeller finished with eight points, six rebounds and three assists, making four of eight shots (two of them 18-footers).
Zeller looks more confident and more physical than he did his rookie season. In the second half he ripped the ball away from Orlando’s Kyle O’Quinn for a big rebound.
“Six rebounds in 22 minutes,” Clifford noted. “And Cody is really developing a dribble-handoff game.”