When Charlotte Hornets power forward Marvin Williams awakens Wednesday, he will undoubtedly rotate his left knee, checking for any overnight swelling and pain.
If there’s no sign of either, he’ll experience a huge sense of relief. He’ll be a functional basketball player again.
Williams has missed the Hornets’ past six games since suffering a hyperextended knee during a road game Nov. 27 against the New York Knicks. The injury rattled him, in that he’d never injured either knee over an 11-season NBA career.
Tuesday afternoon was the big test: The Hornets didn’t practice, but enough players showed up at the training facility to allow Williams to play 2-on-2 and test his readiness to return to the active roster. How’d it go?
“I feel like it went really well,” Williams said in phone interview with the Observer. “If I wake up and feel good, I do expect to play.”
Williams was referring to Wednesday night’s home game against the Detroit Pistons. The Hornets list him probable to play. It would be Williams’ first game action in 2 ½ weeks. While others will determine how much he’d be cleared to play, Williams said he’s ready to jump back into the rotation unencumbered.
“I don’t know about my normal 25 to 30 minutes, but I feel totally ready to do what I do,” Williams said. “I can run and jump.
“My lungs might actually be the hardest thing to get back” after two weeks of relative inactivity.
The Hornets need what Williams does. His absence has reinforced how important he is to the Hornets’ defenses.
Coach Steve Clifford recently went so far as to call Williams, “Our Luke Kuechly, our Thomas Davis,” referring to the Carolina Panthers’ Pro Bowl linebackers.
Asked to elaborate on that point, Clifford said Williams has been the Hornets’ best defensive player this season, even more so than defensive stopper Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
A big piece of that is Williams’ ability to anticipate how an opponent’s play will be run, to cut off options. He’s also known as a traffic cop of sorts, keeping the defense organized. Clifford has compared Williams to former Duke star Shane Battier as a team defender, and that’s high praise.
The topper, Clifford said, is Williams is one of the Hornets’ most physical players and an intense competitor.
What’s it like to be compared to Kuechly, the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year ?
“Luke Kuechly? Thomas Davis? I don’t think I’m that good,” Williams said. “But my experience does help. We have a lot of good defenders. I do think I’m vocal by nature, and that does help. Mistakes can be cleaned up if everyone is talking on defense.”
In Williams’ absence, second-year forward-center Frank Kaminsky moved into the starting lineup. Kaminsky has had big games offensively of late, including 21 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves. But defending starting forwards has been challenging. The Detroit Pistons’ Tobias Harris scored 24 points in a Nov. 29 game in Charlotte. He was matched mostly against Kaminsky.
Williams’ strength is the length and athleticism to guard a variety of scorers – anyone from Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony to Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns.
He feared briefly last month he might not play for a while .
“I was standing there when Kemba (Walker) went up for a layup. He fell directly into my knee,” Williams recalled.
“There was no ‘pop,’ but when I got up I couldn’t really walk. That scared me. I experienced a great deal of pain, but it was definitely more being scared of the situation.”
The next day an MRI revealed no structural damage beyond the hyperextension and a bone bruise.
“First thing I thought was, ‘Thank God!’ ” Williams recalled. “I knew I’d be OK.”