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Charlotte Hornets’ top draft picks have brutal debuts

LAS VEGAS Charlotte Hornets associate head coach Patrick Ewing didn’t want to hear about first-game jitters. Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston will be paid like NBA players this season; they have to live up to that.

“If both P.J. and Noah are not going to play well for us, we don’t have a chance to win,” Ewing said after coaching the Hornets to a 70-58 opening-game loss to the Golden State Warriors at the Las Vegas Summer League.

“Those guys have to play better – scoring and defense.”

It was a brutal start for the two players the Hornets selected in the first round last month. Vonleh, the Indiana power forward chosen ninth, went 1-of-12 from the field (he wasn’t credited on the scoring summary with a second-half put-back). Hairston, chosen 26th after playing at North Carolina and in the development league, shot 2-of-16 for seven points.

Just as Ewing said, it’s hard to picture how this summer roster has much chance for success if the first-rounders play so miserably. The Hornets were without Cody Zeller, who missed Friday’s game to attend his brother’s wedding Saturday.

Zeller will be in Las Vegas on Sunday for the next game against the Sacramento Kings. But Ewing doesn’t see Zeller as a cure-all for Friday’s ills.

“Even when Cody is here I don’t know how much more scoring we’ll get,” said Ewing.

The then-Bobcats squeezed out a playoff spot last season despite similar limitations in shooting and scoring. But that team was particularly disciplined about minimizing mistakes.

It was just the opposite in the first half against the Warriors, and the Hornets trailed by as many as 26 points before halftime.

“I’m disappointed. Yes, this was the first game but we made a lot of mistakes we shouldn’t have made,” Ewing said.

“Take, on a baseline out-of-bounds. We showed them what to do in Charlotte. And then the ball went straight to the guy on the backdoor cut. And you can’t not run back on defense with your man. If you miss a shot, run back and protect the paint, then filter out to the perimeter. And we’ve got to limit our turnovers.”

With Hairston and Noah combining for nine points, the Hornets depended heavily on the shooting of point guard Mickey McConnell. He went 8-of-14 from the field for 19 points. The Hornets also got an injection of energy form Josh Davis, who made 6-of-8 shots off the bench for 14 points.

McConnell played on the same Texas Legends development league team as Hairston last season. So after Hairston went 0-of-7 from the field (and 0-of-4 from 3-point range) in the first half, McConnell made sure to work on Hairston’s approach.

“He told me to slow down. Right before I hit my first shot, that’s what he told me,” Hairston said.

“I just had an off game. I think it will be a lot better next time after I get a feel for the game.”

Noah played just one season of college ball at Indiana, so he’s making a big step up, even to summer-league pro ball. Friday seemed eye-opening, particularly when Golden State’s Mitchell Watt rejected his shot emphatically in the lane.

“In warm-ups I had that little bit of first-game nerves,” Vonleh said.

“In the first half, we let them play way harder than us. I didn’t really step up the way I thought I would. I definitely have to step up better, and I will.”

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