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Charlotte Hornets still searching for win

Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker (15) works to keep control of the ball as Atlanta Hawks' Paul Millsap (4) and Kent Bazemore (24) defend in the second half at Time Warner Cable Arena on Sunday. Atlanta won, 94-92.
Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker (15) works to keep control of the ball as Atlanta Hawks' Paul Millsap (4) and Kent Bazemore (24) defend in the second half at Time Warner Cable Arena on Sunday. Atlanta won, 94-92. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

In the third quarter the Charlotte Hornets were the team they want to be. They were selfless, they were driven, they dove to the floor and they scored.

Nicolas Batum scored. He scored 13 points in the quarter and added four assists and three rebounds. Some players don’t do that in a game.

The Hornets hit 13 baskets in the quarter, and had 11 assists. The basketball was free flowing and fun to watch and if they can learn to sustain it they will be a force. They were down by seven when the quarter began and up by six when it ended.

They didn’t sustain it. In the fourth quarter they were the team they can’t afford to be. The Atlanta Hawks outscored Charlotte by eight points in the quarter. The Hornets were a pitiful 4 for 24 from the field.

As Marvin Williams left the locker room after Charlotte’s 94-92 loss Sunday, he looked at the only remaining player, a player who sat slightly numb in front of his locker.

“It’s still the first week,” Williams told point guard Kemba Walker.

He’s right. Nobody is allowed to panic until December.

On Sunday, the Hornets’ season turned five days old, and they are 0-3. Nobody who follows the NBA expected the Hornets to start the season dominating.

Coach Steve Clifford has four new players in his early season rotation and is still figuring who works well with whom.

In the fourth quarter, there was hope, and it was supplied by Walker, who made the game his. He flew for an offensive rebound. He drew a foul and hit two free throws, hit a three, drew a foul and hit two more free throws.

He scored seven in the sequence and seven in the quarter. Williams added six and Jeremy Lamb three. Nobody else scored.

The Hornets were down by five points with 14.8 seconds to play. Williams banked in a three, the Hornets tied up the Hawks, won the jump ball and here was Walker driving down the left side.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better look,” he says. He was open from 17 feet.

What happened?

“The shot just didn’t go in,” he says.

Without being asked, Walker took the blame for the loss. He says he didn’t have the team ready to play when the 2 p.m. tip-off rolled around.

Clifford said the Hornets “have a chance to be a really good team.”

But they’re fragile. That fragility was exposed in the fourth quarter when, Clifford said, a player or players were in the wrong place and when a player or players failed to box out. Clifford said twice that there was a lack of organization.

Compared to last season’s Hornets, this edition is loaded with scorers. Compared to the rest of the NBA, it isn’t. The Hornets don’t have enough to overcome organizational lapses or simple mistakes such as failing to box out.

What they have, after three games, is six players who average 10 or more points.

Several players had bad shooting days Sunday. Spencer Hawes was 1 for 8 from the field. Jeremy Lin 2 for 9. Cody Zeller scored three baskets inside. He hustled.

Zeller shot an open jumper after a timeout. This likely was the post-timeout shot Clifford wanted him to take. But it was still an ill advised shot. Every jumper he takes is ill advised until one goes in.

The Hornets can be a compelling team. I like Walker’s game so much I’d rebound for him in an empty gym. Batum’s talent touches every phase of the game. Rookie Frank Kaminsky made a guest appearance Sunday, moved the ball well and hit the only shot, a 3-pointer, he took.

I’d like to see Tyler Hansbrough get off the bench and into the rotation. I’d like to see Kaminsky incrementally get more minutes. I’d like to see more of Lamb.

The Hornets have many parts. It’ll be interesting to see on which ones Clifford chooses to rely and at what point they’ll come together.

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