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Charlotte Hornets magic can start Sunday with home opener

Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker celebrates hitting a game-tying shot in regulation against the Milwaukee Bucks last October at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker celebrates hitting a game-tying shot in regulation against the Milwaukee Bucks last October at Time Warner Cable Arena. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Every home opener is special. You’ve been waiting several months to watch your team. It only seems like several years.

And then there they are, and there you are. The Charlotte Hornets play their first home game at 2 p.m. Sunday at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Unfortunately, the Hornets already are 0-2, and they looked fragile in road losses to the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks. They are to the Heat what the Carolina Panthers, until this season, were to the Seattle Seahawks.

The crispness with which the Hornets moved the ball during their seven straight preseason victories has been absent, and they have not defended well. Yet with seven new players to assimilate, their slow start isn’t surprising.

I love the NBA, and I like most of Charlotte’s off-season work. True, I flipped when they bypassed Justise Winslow to draft Frank Kaminsky. But to hang onto that gains nothing. We knew Kaminsky could shoot. He also had preseason flashes handling and delivering the ball. Also, he’s a good interview.

Last season was the most disappointing in franchise history. (I’m talking about their 10 seasons as the Charlotte Bobcats and their first as the latter day Hornets.) It was the most disappointing because, for the first time, fans expected them to win. Fans believed.

Beset by injuries, inconsistency and their signing of Lance Stephenson, the Hornets finished 16 games below .500. Stephenson was their fault much more than his. He wasn’t the scorer they envisioned. He certainly was the shooter. But he’s a New York City guy. When was he ever a shooter? In their opener last season, Stephenson shot 3 of 12 from the field, but grabbed 13 rebounds and added eight assists.

Remember opening night? The Hornets opened at home to a packed crowd. They had reclaimed their name and they finally were Charlotte’s team and not Bob Johnson’s. They were up and coming and – they trailed the Milwaukee Bucks 74-50.

The Hornets came back. Kemba Walker hit a 3 at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. With 5 seconds remaining in overtime he hit a 21-footer from the top of the key. The Hornets won 108-106, their fourth straight home opener victory at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Walker had Kobe Bryant numbers, scoring 26 on 26 field goal attempts. But give him this: Those shots that win or lose games? He’s never afraid to take them.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 17 points on only eight field goal attempts, and adding 8 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 assists.

Kidd-Gilchrist likely won’t play this season because of a shoulder injury. To put his absence in perspective, he means more to the Hornets than Kelvin Benjamin, the fine receiver who tore his left ACL, means to the Panthers. Benjamin isn’t one of the Panthers’ best three players. On the Hornets, Kidd-Gilchrist is.

A year ago the loss of Kidd-Gilchrist would have meant that the season had ended. This season, there’s hope. I want to see Walker. I want to see Not So Big Al Jefferson, who lost about 25 pounds during the offseason. I want to see Jeremy Lin and Nicolas Batum, I want to see Kaminsky and, should he play this season, Tyler Hansbrough.

With Kidd-Gilchrist out, the Hornets will struggle to win half their games. But in Steve Clifford, they have a very good coach with a very difficult assignment – forge the new players and the holdovers into a team.

It will be interesting to watch the Hornets try. For those of us who didn’t make the trip to Miami or Atlanta, it starts Sunday. Doors open at 12:30.

Who knows? Maybe these Sunday afternoon sporting events will catch on.

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