NEW ORLEANS — The Hornets’ loss Friday to the Los Angeles Clippers had all the earmarks of a tired, worn-down team.
Their playing rotation already diminished by season-ending injuries to two key players off the bench, the Hornets have been further depleted by yet more injuries last week to two starters.
A team coming off a tough five-game road trip against mostly playoff teams at the end of the season, there were telltale signs of fatigue Friday night in 15 missed free throws and an end-of-game wilting that saw the opponent score 31 points in the last seven minutes and on their last 11 possessions.
However, as the Hornets (27-53) prepare for their last two games of the season, both against the Dallas Mavericks (39-40), coach Monty Williams said this simply is a time to dig deeper.
“It’s basketball,” he said after Saturday’s practice at the Alario Center. “I’m not worried about guys being tired or (playing for) pride or anything. You’ve just got to do your job and play the game.
“Nobody’s going off to war. Nobody has a terminal disease. Everybody (in the league) is tired. Our guys know we have two games left, and we’re going to go out here and play as hard as we can and try to win.”
The Hornets face the Mavericks Sunday at New Orleans Arena, then travel to Dallas for Wednesday’s season finale.
The two teams certainly are not mirror images of each other, with the Mavericks being much more the veteran group. However, they have had seasons that are not unlike.
Dallas let go of key veterans to cut salary costs and the result has been a losing season. The Hornets also let go of veterans, but are intentionally rebuilding and expected the growing pains.
Both have been affected by an injury to a key player — the Mavericks with forward Dirk Nowitzki and the Hornets with shooting guard Eric Gordon, although both players have been playing well of late.
And both teams have brought in a revolving door of players seeking to shore up a lacking area, such as in the case of the Mavericks, or add elements such as toughness, rebounding and depth, such as the Hornets.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle felt early on that former Hornet Darren Collison was not the answer at point guard. The Mavericks brought in former Lakers veteran Derek Fisher.
Then, Mike James, a 38-year-old veteran who played on the Detroit Pistons’ 2004 championship team, was signed to two 10-day contracts before being retained for the season on Jan. 28. He is a big reason why Dallas is playing better than its season record may indicate.
James, who before coming aboard had played two games with Dallas’ D-League affiliate, the Texas Legends, was named the starter at point guard 20 games ago. The Mavs have gone 13-7 in that time, with two of the losses being by one point both at San Antonio, which has the second-best record in the Western Conference, and at Denver, which has the third-best record.
“I never coached him, but I know him,” said Williams of James, who went undrafted and has played on 11 NBA teams. “I just like the way he’s fought the last few years to get himself back into his position.
“He won a championship with Detroit, he really worked his way into the league. He’s tough, he takes big shots. In the last game we played them, he hit a big 3 when we were up by four. That’s who he is. He’s been through a lot. He’s got himself in a good position.”
The teams are 1-1 against each other this season. In the first game, guard Eric Gordon’s play down the stretch that resulted in the Hornets getting a 99-96 win in overtime at Dallas on Jan.5, one week after he joined the team after missing 29 games rehabilitating a knee injury. The Mavs won the second game 104-100 at the Arena on Feb. 22.
Dallas has won three of its past four games, avenging the loss at Denver with a 108-105 win against the Nuggets on Friday at Dallas.
The Hornets have lost five of their past six after an encouraging 4-3 home stand that featured six teams in playoff positions. Coming off the loss to the Clippers, Williams said he saw some positives, although that seems to pertain to next season more than now.
“I was happy the way (backup point guard) Brian (Roberts) played,” Williams said. “And, (Center) Robin (Lopez) was really efficient. (Forward) Ryan (Anderson) came through in the second half for us.
“But, (we) missed 15 free throws. You have to do something extraordinary to overcome that.”
Starting point guard Greivis Vasquez, who missed Friday’s game with a sprained right ankle, is questionable for
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