The Charlotte Hornets have been riding a hot streak in the month of March, winning all seven of their games while moving up the standings, within striking distance of conference leading Miami. Conversely, the Dallas Mavericks have started to fall out of the competitive Western Conference playoff picture, being losers of five in a row and clinging to the eighth seed.
In a bizarre turn of events, the hometown Hornets came out cold, missing a series of open corner 3-point shots early, allowing the Mavericks to get out to a quick 5-0. The referees also came out cold, need three tries to get the jump ball right. After five quick points from Nicholas Batum, the Hornets got their legs under them and paced themselves through the rest of the first quarter, trailing but never falling out of reach. The theme of missed shots would persist throughout the game, both from the field and from the free throw line. After an uncontested 3-point make from Chandler Parsons, the Hornets perimeter defense tightened up and put in some serious work chasing Dallas off the 3-point line and bodying the man with the ball while not allowing a shot of committing a foul. They really did a fantastic job of that in this game and it helped keep the Hornets close throughout the first quarter, which they finished trailing by just four, 22-18.
Of note, the on-the-rise Troy Daniels got a huge vote of confidence from the coaching staff as first man off the bench in place of Jeremy Lamb. In fact, Daniels saw 14 minutes of play and hit two beautiful 3-point shots while Lamb never made it into the game. Hard to say if this is meant to light a fire under Lamb, Daniels, both, or just tinkering by Clifford.
Things really got out of hand in the second quarter, the Mavs got rolling and the Hornets did not. Though it isn't to say that the game was pretty. It's like that one friend who tells you that he heard a dirty joke and then when he goads you into asking him to tell you, he flatly replies, "A pig fell in the mud."
Some obvious things about basketball: you need to play good offense, good defense, and create turnovers while not giving the ball away yourself. Also, maybe make free throws. The Hornets missed a lot of shots. A lot. They were 11-for-41 in the first half and struggled something mighty from the line. They were 3-for-9 from the line at one point, then 5-for-12, eventually finishing at 22-for-34. And they only crept up over 60 percent at the end of the game because of a couple of 2-for-2 trips late. Prior to that, they were shooting in the fifties. Almost everyone seemed to hit 1-for-2, Lin even going 0-for-2 (when not diving into the lane completely out of control or chucking ugly 3-point attempts).
Kemba Walker channeled memories of James Harden on Saturday, starting 2-for-10 from the field. The first half was flat and the team probably deserved their fair share of boos. Instead, it was the referees who bore the brunt of the frustration. The frustration in the second quarter wasn't limited to players or fans, eventually the technical fouls began to flow. Head coach Steve Clifford picked up a technical for his vocal protest, and later in a confusing sequence two more technical were handed out Charlotte players. It was a disaster, the Hornets entering halftime down 19, 52-33.
The team needed to show more life in the second half. And they did just that, firing off a 9-2 run early in the third quarter. The eliminated the turnovers and started getting shots to fall. They also put more pressure on Dallas and forced them to cough up the ball. The role reversal in the third quarter closed the gap, the Hornets were more aggressive and Walker came alive, getting into the lane, drawing contact and hitting mid-range shots. At the end of the quarter, the Hornets had cut the lead to six points.
The fourth quarter saw the Hornets take the lead for the first time in the game. A generally quiet performance from Frank Kaminsky got a little more life, Nicholas Batum continued solid play on both ends of the court. Defense is what gave Charlotte life, they forced a series of turnovers and turned them into points immediately. And getting those stops was something they neglected earlier in the game. In the first half the great perimeter defense limited the Mavericks outside threat, but Devin Harris shot right through the defense into the lane for an easy basket. Later, in the second half, David Lee did the same. Dallas may not be a bad team, but Charlotte should never allow either of those players to cut straight through the heart of their defense for easy points at the rim.
Bad shooting, turnovers and ugly basketball were the story of the night for both teams. The Hornets only shot 10-for-30 from 3-point range, the Mavericks 9-for-30. Marvin Williams didn't have his first 3-point make on the evening until under three minutes remained in the game. Lots of turnovers both ways, 15 for Charlotte and 14 for Dallas. In the end, a bunch of missed free throws and a slow start really hurt the Hornets. Their strong comeback could only move them so far and while they briefly had the lead in this game the clutch play of the Mavericks down the stretch sealed the deal.
Dallas played with their backs to the wall, knowing that they are in a fight for their playoff lives. They responded late to take back the lead and lock up a win. Chandler Parsons finished the night 5-for-9 from 3-point range, Deron Williams dug down to find a turn back the clock performance and Ray Felton seemed to wake up after getting leveled by big Frank the Tank to make some big-time shots.
Up next, the Hornets finished their home stand with a game against the Orlando Magic. If they come out firing, it should be back to winning ways.