SEATTLE -- Bob Hill saw Earl Watson start to overcome his early season struggles in practice about 10 days ago.
It didn't materialize on the court until Friday night.
Watson entered Friday shooting just 30.6 percent, but was 7-of-13 and ignited a dominant first half by the Sonics, who won their third straight home game.
"He turned the corner 10, 12 days ago in practice ... but it's still somewhat of a breakthrough performance for him. That's what we got used to seeing last year," Hill said. "His energy, stealing the ball, making dramatic plays; I'm happy for him, he needed it."
Watson, who darted out of the locker room before Hill finished his postgame comments, struggled to find his shot all season and his bantering in the media with Hill fueled rumors the reserve guard could be on the trading block.
Watson showed glimpses of emerging from his slump on Tuesday with 10 points against Atlanta. His improvement will be needed for the next two weeks as the Sonics will be without leading scorer Ray Allen, out with a bruised bone in his right ankle.
Allen enjoyed what he saw from the sidelines on Friday as the Sonics built a 26-point first-half lead, watched the Hornets close to seven in the third, then pulled away in the final 15 minutes.
"We know Earl is a good player and eventually he would come around," Seattle's Rashard Lewis said. "Hopefully he can be more consistent and play well off the bench, because we need it."
Chris Wilcox had 19 points and eight rebounds, Lewis scored 15 points and Damien Wilkins added 14 for the Sonics.
Meanwhile, the tone was much different in the locker room of the Hornets, who lost for the sixth time in their last seven games. Coach Byron Scott ripped into his players afterward for their lack of effort and focus.
"It's getting redundant. We are getting two or three games where we come out and get great effort and then we get a few games where we come out like we did tonight," Scott said. "I went on a mini rampage in there and I'm not happy. I'm not happy with the effort."
Chris Paul scored 16 points to lead the Hornets, who played again without Bobby Jackson (cracked rib), Peja Stojakovic (back spasms) and David West (forearm).
Desmond Mason added 10 points for the Hornets, who showed little energy at the start and stumbled offensively in the first half. If not for Hilton Armstrong's seven points off the bench in the final four minutes of the second quarter, the Hornets would have threatened the franchise record for fewest points in a half at 25.
New Orleans went 9:03 of the first half with just two baskets, getting outscored 19-4 during the stretch, as Seattle took its biggest lead at 46-20 on Wilkins' basket with 4:05 left in the second quarter.
"Three of four games we play hard and three or four games we take it off," Scott said. "If that's the case, then somebody should be giving their money back."
Watson was energetic in the first half with nine points, three assists and three steals, including a reverse layup while falling down and trying an off-the-backboard alley-oop to Wilcox. Watson was fouled on the play, erasing Wilcox's emphatic dunk.
The low point for the Hornets was Watson swiping Jannero Pargo as Pargo lazily dribbled to halfcourt to call a timeout. Watson dribbled in the clear and slammed down a one-handed dunk.
The Hornets surged in the third behind 12 points from Paul, closing to 64-57 on the guard's driving three-point play with 3:16 left. Wilcox missed a jumper at the other end, but rookie Mickael Gelabale swooped in from the wing and slammed the rebound. Watson then scored eight straight points and Seattle scored the first eight points of the fourth, pushing the lead back to 18.
It was the first game in Seattle for the Hornets, who are playing 35 games in Oklahoma City, the home of Seattle majority owner Clay Bennett. Bennett has said a solution to KeyArena must be found or the Sonics may be moved. A number of signs in the arena said "Save our Sonics." ... The Hornets made just 15 of 26 free throws and the 74 points were a season low.