NEW ORLEANS — Heading into the All-Star break, the New Orleans Hornets were playing some of their best basketball of the season.
To open the stretch run, coach Monty Williams said what he wanted most from his team was for it to play the right way more consistently.
But the opposite has happened, with the Hornets going for too many big plays, allowing opponents to have overwhelming quarters and being unable to finish strong in their past three games — all losses.
The Hornets suffered perhaps their toughest defeat of the season Friday against the Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Arena. They blew a four-point lead in the final 55.5 seconds after it appeared they had victory in hand with an excited crowd boisterously behind them.
Starting small forward Al-Farouq Aminu said the recent slide is disappointing because the team was looking forward to picking up where it left off, but this season has shown him that the Hornets will find their way again.
“I feel like the whole season has been like that,” he said. “We’ll win four out of five or five out of six, and then lose a couple. I think that just goes with the maturity of the team. We’ve got to keep maturing. We show glimpses that we can put it together. We just have to sustain it for longer, and I feel it’s coming. That’s why we try to do things the same way, win or lose. And if we do that, wins can happen.”
Sunday may provide the Hornets with an opportunity to snap out of their funk when the Sacramento Kings visit for a 5 p.m. tipoff. The game features struggling teams with identical 19-37 records.
Sacramento lost 122-108 on Friday night in Atlanta, its fourth straight defeat. Sacramento has surrendered an average of 115.3 points in those four games.
One of the Hornets’ more impressive victories was a 114-105 win at home Jan. 21 against the Kings; it was New Orleans’ third win in four games. The Hornets bolted to a 30-18 first-quarter lead in building an insurmountable 64-39 halftime cushion. Forward Ryan Anderson torched the Kings for 27 points, going 7-of-14 on 3-point attempts.
Aminu, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds in that game and made a rare 3-pointer, said jumping on the Kings from the start is the key to beating them again and getting the Hornets back on track.
“It got kind of ugly (for the Kings) at the beginning the last time, so I know they’re going to come out harder this time,” he said. “We have to make sure we surpass their energy and play like we know how to play.”
Even in that game, the Kings came back with a 37-point third quarter, although the Hornets remained in control. Big quarters have plagued the Hornets in recent losses.
Cleveland scored 37 in the fourth behind All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to close out a 105-100 win Wednesday. The Mavericks scored 35 in the first quarter Friday to put the Hornets on their heels, then came back with 30 in the third to regain control.
“We talk about it,” Williams said. “Our starters have to come out with a bit more focus on (defense).”
In their past two games, the Hornets have given up more than 100 points. They are 2-25 this season when that happens. One of the wins came against the Kings, with the other coming Feb. 8 at Atlanta.
NOTE: Rookie power forward Anthony Davis, who came out of Friday night’s game with a sprained right knee, practiced Saturday with no problems. Davis said after the game that the injury was minor, that he probably could have gone back in and that he would play Sunday. He wore a sleeve on the knee Saturday.