At 11-9, Charlotte is right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. The same can't be said for the Dallas Mavericks, who at 4-15 languish at the bottom of the Western Conference.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford has received contributions up and down his roster while Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle recently met with Dallas owner Mark Cuban about salvaging the season, saying, “We're going to slug this thing out.”
Shorthanded and hurting, Dallas might seem like easy pickings for Charlotte when the two meet in Dallas on Monday night.
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Dallas is missing future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki. He didn't play when the two teams met just a few days ago on Dec. 1 in Charlotte — a 97-87 Hornets' win — and he won't play either on Monday.
But if the Hornets think they'll be able to roll over the Mavericks, they might want to take a closer look at the video from Saturday night.
Dallas bounced back from that loss to Charlotte and, without Nowitzki in uniform, the Mavericks handed the Chicago Bulls a 25-point loss on Saturday.
Wes Matthews poured in a team-high and season-high-tying 26 points and buried a season-high seven of his 11 3-point attempts to give him 19 3s in his past four games.
“I am really happy for him,” Carlisle said of Matthews. “He is our leader right now with Dirk out. He really sets the tone for us in the locker room and on the floor.”
Matthews and Harrison Barnes are the veterans in the clubhouse, along with Andrew Bogut. Barnes leads the Mavs in scoring at 20.4 points per game and Bogut leads the team in rebounds at 10.7, but both are in their first season with Dallas. That's why Carlisle believes it's important for Matthews to take a leadership role.
But there's no doubt the Mavs are not close to being the same team without Nowitzki. And there are some who might believe, the 19-year veteran is done. Don't tell that to Nowitzki.
“I'm all-in. I want to play,” Nowitzki told ESPN in front of his locker after his teammates pulled off the Mavs' most lopsided win of the season.
“There's still a lot of season left. December just started. We know that there's a lot of games coming, so hopefully sometime soon I'll be out there and then stay out there,” he said. “I don't want to jump in and out of the lineup with soreness or fight this whole year. I'd love to be healthy and stay out there once I go.”
The Mavericks not only miss the offense from the sixth leading scorer in NBA history, they miss his leadership.
Likewise, the Hornets are looking for more consistency from its leader, Kemba Walker, who leads the team with 23.8 points per game. In a loss to Minnesota on Saturday, the Hornets blew a seven-point lead with less than two minutes left.
“That's when the intensity goes up this high, that's when you have to be at your best,” Clifford said. “That's when it's the most physical. That's when guys have to step up and make plays.”
Unfortunately for the Hornets, it was the Timberwolves who made the plays. The loss has left a bad taste in the Hornets' mouths.
“A lot of mistakes on the defensive end,” Walker said. “Too many mistakes. Gave up some big baskets, just some missed rotations by a few of us. We just got to be better down the stretch.”