Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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NEW ORLEANS Tom Benson paid $338 million for this?

One of America's richest men, valued at more than $1 billion, had to be wondering Wednesday, sometime between the 6:47 mark of the fourth and the final buzzer when his Hornets failed to score a single point, what the hell that was he had just witnessed.

He wouldn't have been alone.

Up 25 points at one point and leading by 17 a third of the way through the final 12 minutes, New Orleans was inexplicably outscored 25-2 and lost to the Lakers 108-102.

If you thought Monday night's embarrassing loss to Orlando was the trough of the season, you were wrong. So painfully wrong. In fact, the floor apparently hasn't been set.

And coach Monty Williams is leading a sinking ship to another lottery pick.

Well, Williams might be in charge of it but he's certainly not leading it.

He has made enough questionable excuses lately that, metaphorically, they are acting as anchors. And they're bringing the Hornets down.

His excuse for sitting rookie Anthony Davis the defensive playmaker the team drafted No. 1 overall on the bench for all of the fourth quarter against the Lakers?

'With his shoulder and some of the ailments he has had, I'm not going to put him on Dwight in a situation like that,' Williams said. 'That's not fair to him.'

Well how else will Davis learn if he's not given the opportunities to overcome what's wrong ? it's not so believable that Davis wouldn't have been able to help in some fashion. There's no hurt in thrusting him into the game at some point, even if just to see. And if he can't match with Howard, match him against another player and leave Lopez in.

Williams blamed the lack of ability to get anything done in the final 6:47, when his Hornets were outscored 20-0 and turned the ball over six times, on the club's youth and inexperience.

'We've got to go through this stuff,' Williams said. 'As bad as it feels, you're not going to go to the next level without going through some tough stuff. And we all feel sick about it but it's the nature of progression in the NBA. You're going to go through times like this before you elevate to where you want to go.'

Sixty-two games into the season, that smacks of excuse and the proverbial head-in-the-sand mentality. As Kevin Bacon's character in Animal House says when the riot breaks out during the parade, 'Remain calm! All is well!'

No, nothing is well. The Hornets have given up fourth quarter leads three times in the past nine games and lost by 45 points at Oklahoma City, the franchise's second-worst loss. That may be youth, but it's also a combination of questionable coaching and a team that has a couple of talented players bogged down with a roster nearly full of reserves.

And besides - the youngsters weren't the ones in the game in crunch time.

Williams' background is as a defensive coach but for much of the past two years, either his system is too complicated or he has lost his players. But while that has been happening, his team has lost if it had any an offensive identity. When it's time to score points, when games are close, this team retracts into its shell. And they haven't ever improved in that area.

Against Los Angeles, it was a 20-0 run by the Lakers that put New Orleans away. Against Orlando, it was 17-5. And against Dallas, it was 8-0 in the final 55 seconds.

Williams has gotten a pass for much of the past two years, and, in a way, deservedly so. But it's now obvious the Hornets are regressing under him, not progressing.

It might now be the time for Benson to take a closer look at the head coach to make sure he is the right man for the job or if he has the right people around him. While Williams was just extended this year, few around him should feel safe.

After all, Benson does have $338 million invested in this product.

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