Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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NEW ORLEANS Tom Benson can buy many things for the Hornets in their quest for improvement, but he can't purchase the few things they needed Wednesday night against the Lakers.

Energy and execution in the third quarter.

Once again, New Orleans' professional basketball team failed to convert on its first-half success with the owner sitting courtside.

The Hornets led a less-than-perfect Lakers team at halftime and appeared ready to capitalize on a positive step forward they took with a Monday night win.

Instead, they played the first eight or so minute of the third quarter like a team ready to go home. In the end, they did, 103-87 losers.

This one isn't on the age of the team.

It's on the players and it's on the coaches.

At least they know it.

'Just because we're up at halftime doesn't mean the game is already won,' forward Lance Thomas said. 'We came out loose and they ran it right up our throats. They killed us in the beginning part of the third quarter. The beginning of the third quarter is one of the most important parts of the game, the tone setter.'

New Orleans played this game early in the season, taking leads or at least being within striking distance at halftime only to fall apart as the third quarter gets going.

Within the locker room, there's an acknowledgement that they're coming out without energy and without fire.

That's on the players.

'It's just something we've got to consciously make an effort at,' Hornets forward Jason Smith said. 'We've got to bring the effort for four quarters. We can't have it for the first two, then have a lax quarter, then try to make up the difference. That's all on us.'

But it's more than just the players. Coach Monty Williams is a well-respected young leader, one who many believe has great upside.

Yet, these mounting losses are as much on him as they are on the players.

Whether he's making halftime adjustments that his players aren't understanding or not making any tweaks at all, he has to figure out how to motivate his players to put forth the needed fire and the expected energy.

That's what a coach does and it's what Williams is failing to do.

'When you haven't been together a long time, it's hard to know what you're supposed to do together outside of just trying to run the system we have in place,' Williams said.

Certainly there's truth to the fact that this team hasn't been together a long time. When you watch the Spurs play, it's obvious the main players know what the others are thinking.

Then again, a coach should know when and how to make adjustments to the system so that the players won't have to go outside of it.

Then again, the players aren't blaming Williams.

'We're making adjustments, but we as players have to go out there and do it,' Thomas said. 'We have to have some gamesmanship and know that we can't come out soft, we can't turn the ball over, we can't give them easy buckets, we can't give them transition dunks uncontested.'

There are 65 games left. This lesson, and recognition, has come early enough to make a difference.

The only question that remains is has it been learned.

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