The Charlotte Hornets aren’t playing like a team in the mix for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Winless through three on a five-game trip, the Hornets try to get back on track Sunday night against the depleted Minnesota Timberwolves.
Charlotte (29-38) won its first five games in March by averaging 105.6 points and shooting 49.5 percent, but since has scored 87.5 and shot 37.7 percent to lose five of six.
”We’ve lost our way a little bit lately,” guard Gerald Henderson said after scoring 20 in Friday’s 101-91 loss at Sacramento.
Among six teams competing for the final three playoff spots, the Hornets haven’t shown the intensity needed from a club trying to reach the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004-05.
It hasn’t helped that they’ve lost to the lowly Kings twice in 10 days.
On Friday, Sacramento shot 63.2 percent in the first quarter, 47.4 for the game and held a 48-36 rebounding advantage even without injured All-Star DeMarcus Cousins.
”If we’re going to have a chance to win games, we can’t get outhustled on the glass,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. ”They outworked us a little bit. We played with a real frustration level. That really hurt our play.”
The Hornets’ 39.6-percent shooting effort marked the fourth time in six games they’ve shot worse than 40 percent.
”We can’t put our heads down," said guard Kemba Walker, who had 18 points Friday but has averaged 10.8 and shot 29.8 percent in five games since missing 18 following knee surgery.
"We have to go out and just try to win the next one.”
Without Walker (17.9 points per game), Charlotte beat Minnesota for the fourth time in five meetings, 105-80 on Jan. 19.
The Timberwolves (15-53) were minus starters Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio for that contest, and are likely to have only Martin available for the rematch.
With Pekovic (ankle) sitting a fifth straight game, Rubio (ankle) out for a third time in four contests and Kevin Garnett (knee) missing his seventh in a row, Minnesota dressed eight players Thursday but managed to snap a six-game skid with a 95-92 overtime win at New York in a matchup of teams in the mix for the No. 1 draft pick.
”We don’t look at it that way,” said rookie Zach LaVine, who scored six of his 20 points in the extra session. ”We look at it as a game and we want to be better than that team, so don’t matter if it’s first or last place, we’re going to play the same way.”
Martin scored 22, Andrew Wiggins had 20 and Gorgui Dieng added 19, 11 rebounds and a career-high six blocks as the Timberwolves held an opponent to fewer than 100 points for the second time in 11 games and win for the second time in the last 12.
Dieng had 10 rebounds and four blocks but Rookie of the Year frontrunner Wiggins (15.8 ppg) was held to 12 on 3-of-14 shooting as Minnesota shot 36.3 percent at Charlotte.
Mo Williams scored 10 for the Timberwolves in that contest but has averaged 19.1 points in 15 games since they traded him to Charlotte on Feb. 10. Williams, however, missed his first 11 shots and finished with nine points Friday.