Nic Batum appears to be days away from his first regular-season game with the Charlotte Hornets this season. The top of Batum’s agenda? Get intimate with center Dwight Howard’s game.
Batum played with his other fellow starters – Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams – the past two seasons. Batum got half a preseason game in Boston playing with Howard, the Hornets’ Hall of Fame-bound center, before tearing a ligament in his left elbow.
Batum scrimmaged with the Hornets Sunday and Monday, and the plan is for him to play Wednesday at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers (8 p.m., ESPN). Batum is as much a playmaker on this team as point guard Walker, so getting to know precisely where and when Howard wants the ball offensively is imperative in Batum’s mind.
“That’s the guy I watch the most during the games. I’ve played with the other guys for two years,” Batum said of the 11 games he missed while recovering. “I’m trying to get to know him more on the court.”
Batum is a creative and daring passer. He led the Hornets last season in both assists (5.9 per game) and turnovers (2.5). A true low-post scorer such as Howard is becoming a rarity in the NBA. Howard is third on the Hornets in scoring this season, at 14.4 points per game, and shooting 57 percent from the field. But Howard is also sixth in the NBA in turnovers this season at 4.1 per game.
The Hornets have four days off from games before Wednesday, and are using the practice days as a mini-camp of sorts, in part to get Batum up to speed. The Hornets had a long scrimmage Monday that provided some time for Batum and Howard to become more familiar with each other’s preferences and tendencies.
“I think that our connection on the floor is going to be very key for us to succeed,” Howard said after practice Monday. “He and Kemba and I have to be on the same page in all situations. The faster that happens, the better this team will be.
“It’s imperative that we develop some chemistry on the floor together. In the scrimmage, we did. But it takes time.”
Howard said he’s glad Batum is so conscious of that connection, but Batum also has to worry about himself following a six-week layoff.
“He’s also trying to get himself back,” Howard said of Batum. “We had a really tough scrimmage today (starters versus reserves), we got down early and we came back and won.”
Batum has a knack for making big men better offensively, particularly in the pick-and-roll, as he demonstrated with Cody Zeller the past two seasons.
“Nic is such an unselfish player; pass-first. If you’re open, he’s going to find you,” Zeller said. “We know if we cut hard, he’s going to find us.”
Coach Steve Clifford said Batum’s return looks good, and the connection with Howard should grow quickly.
“He has such a feel for the game. He’s easy to play with,” Clifford said. “You have to learn where they want the ball and what their strengths are. That’s one of his strengths: He plays for his teammates.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell