The Charlotte Hornets were in the Southeast Division cellar less than two months ago. They have a chance to take over first place this week.
The Hornets can secure their longest win streak in 16 seasons when they face the slumping Dallas Mavericks on Monday night.
Charlotte was 19-23 and 6 1/2 games back in the Southeast on Jan. 20 following its 15th loss in 20 contests. The Hornets have won 18 of 23 since and earned a seventh consecutive victory Saturday, 125-109 over Houston.
Kemba Walker shined once again in his team's eighth straight home win with 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting, and Marvin Williams added 25. Walker is averaging 28.6 points and 52.9 percent shooting during the win streak, going 25 of 51 from 3-point range.
“We're just trying to approach every game the same. We just want to win,” Walker said. “I'm excited. We're playing well. We're playing our best right now, but I think we still have room for improvement. We have got to keep it rolling.”
Charlotte is looking for its longest win streak since Dec. 3-18, 1999, and a ninth victory in a row at home would match the third-longest in franchise history.
Extending those streaks might also allow the Hornets (37-28) to overtake Miami in the division.
Charlotte is a half-game behind the Heat, who play Denver on Monday night. The Hornets will try to do their part to erase the last remnant of that deficit by sending Dallas (33-33) to a sixth consecutive loss.
The Mavericks dropped to .500 for the first time since Nov. 11 with a 112-105 defeat to visiting Indiana on Saturday, their 14th consecutive game of allowing at least 101 points. Dirk Nowitzki helped keep his team competitive by scoring 15 of his 30 in the final quarter.
“We're a .500 team. We deserve to be a .500 team and we're at that crossroads,” guard Wesley Matthews said. “Where do we want to go? What do we want to do about it?”
Dallas is in a virtual tie with Houston for the Western Conference's final playoff spot. The defensively challenged Mavericks will face a team that's averaged 118.0 points in its last seven games while shooting 43.1 percent from 3-point range.
“It's just a lot of little things, and it's tiny things, at this point, that we've got to do better. We're close, but we're just not good enough right now. We've just got to better,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We're playing good teams. Indiana is a good team. Charlotte is going to be the same kind of team.”
The Hornets went 6 of 27 from beyond the arc against Dallas on Nov. 5, but shot 49.4 percent overall in a 108-94 victory. Al Jefferson led the way with a season-high 31 points on 15 of 18 from the field.
Nowitzki was limited to 14 points and shot 4 of 12, and he's averaged 12.8 points in his last four games against Charlotte. However, he's scored 26.8 points and hit 57.1 percent in his past four overall.
The Mavericks have lost four of five on the road and gone to overtime in each of their last three such games. No team has played to an extra period in four consecutive road contests since at least 1951-52.