Charlotte’s NBA franchise has not won in Dallas since the Bobcats were established in 2004.
Sunday there was some hope, with the Hornets trimming a 19-point deficit to six. But it’s something every night for these guys lately and that won’t do against a team with the firepower of the Mavericks, who won 92-81 at American Airlines Center.
“We’re not that far off.” Hornets center Al Jefferson said. “But time is running out.”
Indeed it is if the Hornets are to meet their goal of a second consecutive playoff appearance. It was their fifth consecutive loss, dropping them to 22-32. They have fallen behind the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers to slip to 11th in the Eastern Conference, a half game behind eighth-place Brooklyn for the final playoff spot.
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And they face the Bulls next – a team they have beaten once in Chicago in their last six tries.
The Bulls are stingy on defense, and the Hornets certainly aren’t consistent offensively. One night after scoring 103 points at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Hornets mustered just 35 in the first half against the Mavericks, a team that isn’t exactly a shut-down defensive unit.
Precise, intense defense and rebounding have to be the Hornets’ forte. It was when they went 10-4 in January. Not so much right now.
“We need a defensive disposition, a rebounding disposition that now comes and goes for us as a team,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.
“In the first quarter we couldn’t guard at all. It got better as the game went on.”
The Mavericks (38-20) made 12 of 20 shots in the first quarter to quickly take a double-digit lead. That grew to 43-24 midway through the second quarter.
The Hornets showed some fight, cutting that deficit to 10 at halftime. It was down to six with just over three minutes left in the third quarter on a free throw by point guard Mo Williams.
But in the fourth quarter the Hornets could do nothing to contain Dallas guard Monta Ellis. He scored 15 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth, collaborating with center Tyson Chandler in frequent pick-and-rolls.
Ellis kept losing defenders and pulling up for mid-range jump shots. He made six of 10 attempts from the field over the final 12 minutes, plus 3 of 4 free throws.
Ellis’ big closing demonstrated the Mavericks’ offensive diversity. They played without small forward Chandler Parsons, who was out with an ankle injury, and they got a relatively quiet game from All-Star power forward Dirk Nowitzki (eight points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes).
The Mavericks have enough weapons that every scorer doesn’t have play great all the time. That’s harder to say about the Hornets – they lean on center Al Jefferson’s low-post scoring and he wasn’t a special player Sunday.
Jefferson scored just eight points on 4-of-16 shooting. He grabbed 17 rebounds, but he never attempted a free throw.
Chandler’s size makes him a tough matchup for Jefferson, and Chandler doesn’t generally leave his feet for Jefferson’s pump fakes The Mavericks were aggressive early, sending double-teams at Jefferson to force him to give up the ball.
The Hornets did get another strong game from Williams; he finished with 22 points one night after debuting with Charlotte with 24 points and 12 assists.