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Watson sparks SuperSonics past sloppy Hornets

Dec 9, 2006 - 6:14 AM SEATTLE (Ticker) -- With Ray Allen sidelined, Earl Watson made the most of his newfound playing time.

Watson had season highs of 17 points and seven assists did a solid job on Chris Paul as the Seattle SuperSonics again won without Allen, rolling to a 94-74 victory over the sloppy New Orleans Hornets.

Chris Wilcox scored 19 points to lead a balanced attack for the SuperSonics, who have won twice since Allen was sidelined with a bone bruise on his ankle. The All-Star guard is expected to miss at least two weeks.

"It was just a good team win," Seattle forward Rashard Lewis said. "It definitely gives us confidence when we can win without one of our best players. It gives us confidence that we can go into every night knowing that you have a chance to win the game."

Earlier this season, Watson complained about his lack of playing time. A combo guard and strong on-the-ball defender, he came in averaging 5.6 points and 3.9 assists, mostly as a backup to point guard Luke Ridnour.

"He turned the corner 10 or 12 days ago," Sonics coach Bob Hill said. "This team practiced well (Thursday), probably one of the best we've had, and he (has) been in the gym getting shots, but it was still somewhat of a breakthrough performance for him. His energy on the ball, (he's) making plays and I'm happy for him. He needed it."

"We know Earl is a good player and I think he broke out a little bit," Lewis said. "Hopefully, he can contribute and play well for us off the bench."

With Allen in street clothes for the foreseeable future, the Sonics will need more games like this from Watson. In 26 minutes, he made 7-of-13 shots and collected five steals, energizing the team on both ends of the floor.

Rashard Lewis scored nine points on 4-of-4 shooting in the first quarter as Seattle built a 27-18 lead. Watson scored seven points in a decisive 19-2 burst that opened the second period and built the bulge to 46-20.

The Hornets pecked away, closing to 49-33 at halftime and 64-57 on a three-point play by Paul with 3:16 left in the third quarter. But rookie Mickael Gelabale had a follow dunk and Watson made a jumper.

After a 3-pointer by Hornets guard Jannero Pargo, Watson had a pair of hoops around two free throws to close the quarter and give Seattle a 74-60 lead entering the final period.

Watson's defense helped keep Paul from penetrating and creating easy baskets for himself and his teammates. Paul had 16 points and six assists but also had five of the 27 turnovers by the Hornets.

"The key was just slowing (Paul) down," Lewis said. "Even when we make shots, he likes to get the ball and push it up court fast to create shots for himself and for his teammates. We shadowed him with our bigs to slow him down and make him run the offense."

"Earl is always aggressive when he comes in and they were pushing the ball up the court and they got a lot of easy baskets," Paul said. "It was ugly. I don't think you can point out one thing. The thing that really tells the tale is the 27 turnovers. That killed us."

Lewis scored 15 points and Damien Wilkins added 14 and four steals for the Sonics, who never trailed, shot nearly 46 percent (35-of-77) and collected 14 steals.

Former Sonic Desmond Mason scored 10 points and Tyson Chandler grabbed 13 rebounds for the Hornets, who shot 39 percent (28-of-72) and missed 11 free throws.

"It's a mental thing," Mason said. "You have to have a mental toughness. (Hornets coach Byron Scott) said that if you make a team beat you and you play hard then he has no problem with that. We just can't let teams beat (us). We can't let teams off the hook and let teams outhustle us and that's what (the Sonics) did."

"I don't like the effort," Scott said. "Three or four games we play hard and three of four games we take it off. If that's the case, then somebody should be giving their money back."

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