Hornets try to turn season around against struggling Mavericks

For the Charlotte Hornets, a 10-8 record is respectable but based on recent trends, it is not good enough.

Coming off a 48-win season, Charlotte began this season by winning eight of its first 11 games and four of its first six home games. Starting with a five-point overtime loss in New Orleans, it has been difficult for the Hornets.

The Hornets look to correct some of those negative trends Thursday night when they host the struggling Dallas Mavericks.

On Nov. 19, the Hornets held a 14-point lead in the opening minute of the fourth quarter and wound up with a 121-116 loss to the Pelicans. The loss sparked a stretch of five losses in seven games, which continued during Tuesday's 112-89 home loss to the Detroit Pistons.

“There's two ways you can look at this,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “We can come in here and do the proverbial 'It was the schedule and it's five in seven, and they're fresh.' If you do that, you have the wrong expectations of what I think our team should be. We've done some good things to this point, but two things that are concerning are, one, we're 5-5 at home, and two, we're 1-3 on the second night of a back-to-back. If those things continue to happen, then we're certainly not going to be in a position where we want to be.”

During Charlotte's skid, the defense has allowed an average of 108.1 points per game and the latest loss occurred after Detroit center Andre Drummond was ejected before halftime. The Hornets trailed by three at intermission but were outscored by 20 in the second half.

Kemba Walker scored 23 points but received little help. Frank Kaminsky shot 1 of 11 and Nicolas Batum was 3 of 11.

Charlotte's inability to get past Detroit resulted in its third home loss in four games.

“We could make a lot of excuses, but we have to start winning at home,” Charlotte center Cody Zeller said. “We have to start winning on the second night of back-to-backs. We just didn't do enough things to win tonight.”

The Mavericks have dropped 10 of their last 11 games and their 3-14 start is the third-worst 17-game start in team history. Dallas has been held under 100 points in 10 of those games and 14 times overall.

The latest setback for Dallas was Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs when the Mavericks held a 13-point deficit only to lose 94-87. It was the seventh single-digit loss this season for Mavericks.

“I'm encouraged by the competitive part of this,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our guys have been fighting hard.”

Wesley Matthews scored a season-high 26 points and Harrison Barnes added 17 but neither player could get rolling down the stretch. Matthews missed six of his last seven shots while Barnes missed four of his last six attempts.

“We're still fighting,” said Dallas guard Devin Harris, who returned from a left foot injury and played 11 minutes in his season debut. “We felt like we should've had this one tonight. Our fight is still there. Our guys are playing their butts off and one of these days our luck is going to change. If we continue to fight this way, we'll win some of these games.”

Dallas played its 12th game without Dirk Nowitzki (strained right Achilles). Nowitzki is expected to sit again Thursday.

Nowitzki missed eight games from Nov. 6-21 before returning last week against the Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers. He scored 25 points on 10-of-28 shooting in 47 minutes before sitting out again.

“We got to get him right,” Carlisle said. “And he is getting closer. But it's not going to happen this week. Next week could be a possibility, but we'll see.”

Dorian-Finney Smith has started the last seven games Nowitzki has missed but has only scored 27 points. The undrafted rookie has been playing between 18 and 27 minutes in the starting frontcourt and is 10 of 30 from the floor.

The Mavericks are 7-3 in the last 10 meetings.