I can’t grow up for the players we have.” Monty Williams, Hornets coach
NEW ORLEANS — Power forward Dirk Nowitzki wasted no time running off the court after the Dallas Mavericks’ game against the Hornets ended Sunday night in the New Orleans Arena.
Nowitzki had to shave.
Since February, the Mavericks, in the midst of a disappointing season, had decided not to cut their facial hair until the team reached the .500 mark.
That happened when Dallas cruised past the Hornets107-89.
“It’s been too long,” said Nowitzki, who also scored his 25,000th point midway during the second quarter. “I think my wife stopped kissing me midway through February. But nobody actually thought we could fight back after we fell 10 games under (.500 at 13-23). We won some close games here lately and made it interesting.”
On Tuesday, the Mavericks (40-40) host Memphis, a team still in a fight for playoff seeding, so achieving a winning season might be difficult.
But Sunday night, only one team had something to play for. The Hornets (27-54) had professional pride as motivation, but that’s a tough sell when you have a short rotation and are physically and mentally beaten down by a long season.
The Mavericks moved spryly and passed the ball crisply in surging to a commanding 22-point halftime lead, then fought off a late futile attempt by the Hornets.
Afterward, coach Monty Williams talked to his team about the way it played in its last home game of the season and final home game as the Hornets. The team will be called the Pelicans next season.
The Hornets play at Dallas on Wednesday in the final game of the season.
“(Williams) told us, and we all know, that we can’t finish out like that,” backup point guard Brian Roberts said. “We played well for the most part in the last month or so. The guys were frustrated (Sunday). Fortunately, we have the same team on Wednesday.”
The victory was Dallas’ fourth in five games, and it took a 2-1 edge in the season series. The Hornets lost for the sixth time in their past seven games.
The Mavericks finished the game shooting 52.3 percent and with 52 points in the point. They shot 42.9 on 21 3-point attempts. Shawn Marion finished with 21 points, with Nowitzki getting 19 and Brandan Wright and Vince Carter 16 each off the bench.
The Hornets were led by Ryan Anderson’s 20 points and 12 rebounds. Anderson, who had struggled of late, particularly on 3-point shooting, was 4-of-7 from behind the arc.
Eric Gordon scored 15 points, and Robin Lopez had another solid outing with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
The game marked the return of point guard Greivis Vasquez to the lineup; he had 11 points and four assists.
The Hornets, who at one point in the second quarter trailed by 27, fought back in the third, doing a better job on the boards and outscoring the Mavericks 27-19. When New Orleans cut the bulge to 75-62 with 2:46 showing, it prompted a Dallas timeout. That seemed to cut the Hornets’ momentum the rest of quarter, which ended with the Mavs leading 81-67.
With Nowitzki returning for the start of the fourth after he got some rest on the bench, Dallas got back to business. In the first three minutes, he hit three jumpers and assisted on a dunk by Chris Kaman, and it was 92-71.
When a jumper by Roberts that would have brought the Hornets within 94-78 at 6:50 was ruled to have come after the shot clock expired, any wind left in the Hornets’ sails seemed to fade away.
“I can’t grow up for the players we have,” Williams said of the team digging too big of a hole in the first half. “We have been trying to help our guys mature and understand that there is a big responsibility that goes with being a player in the NBA.”
The Hornets looked hopelessly behind at halftime, judging by their lack of energy and effectiveness and a 62-40 deficit, after Dallas picked up where it left off in the first quarter and then some.
Anderson sank a 3-pointer with 8:28 left, and the score was 38-27. However, that was like the starting gun to a race for the Mavericks. Dallas immediately went on a 12-2 run for a 51-29 lead four minutes later, with Carter hitting consecutive 3s in a 28-second span.
Sensing an early kill, the Mavericks kept up the pace and intensity, and the lead reached 27 points at 58-31 after a three-point play by Marion at 2:54, followed by his drive and left-handed scoop shot 42 seconds later.
Dallas ended the first quarter on a 10-3 run to take a 33-19 lead.