NEW ORLEANS — The team has been struggling, losing 10 of its past 12 games, and its star player has just come back from a knee injury.
Sound familiar? This isn’t the Hornets and shooting guard Eric Gordon, however, but the Dallas Mavericks, whom the Hornets meet Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
Mavericks perennial All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee during training camp and returned six games ago.
The Mavs, who made offseason changes to the roster for the second consecutive year, went 12-15 without Nowitzki. Since his return, however, Dallas has gone just 1-5, including a loss at Miami on Wednesday night after a victory at Washington on New Year’s Day.
“I think anytime you lose your best player, you’re going to have an adjustment, and then you get him back...” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “And it’s not like they’ve played soft teams. Miami, San Antonio, some of the teams they’ve played are pretty good teams.”
Dallas lost nine of its last 10 games in December. Its last six losses in the month were versus Miami, at Memphis, at San Antonio, at Oklahoma City, versus Denver and versus San Antonio.
With nine of the Mavericks’ 20 losses coming by 19 or more points, forward Shawn Marion didn’t think the team’s problems were about adjusting. He questioned the Mavs’ toughness.
“We got to get some dog in us, some fight in us right now,” Marion said. “At times, we look good, and it’s going good, and at times it’s not. Right now, the times it’s not outweigh the times it’s good.”
Since returning, Nowitzki, who averages 22.2 points and 10.3 rebounds, has averaged 10.0 points on 41.1 percent shooting and 4.3 rebounds. His return to the starting lineup is said to be imminent.
Coach Rick Carlisle made two adjustments he hopes will make for a change, although they may appear cosmetic.
First, rookie Jared Cunningham was called back to the team after averaging 18.1 points in seven games with the NBA Development League Texas Legends. And, Carlisle instituted a dress code for the team’s chartered flights. Players and team personnel no longer are allowed to wear sweatsuits; business casual is the appropriate attire now.
Williams said the Mavs remain a tough team because of their size, which includes center Chris Kaman, who played for the Hornets last season.
Former Hornets point guard Darren Collison also is with Dallas.
“They have a 7-footer (Nowitzki) who can shoot 3s and post up, and Kaman just can play,” Williams said. “O.J. Mayo is playing that combo guard position as well as anybody in the league.”
Gordon looks to return to action Saturday. He was held out of Wednesday night’s game at Houston because it was the second of consecutive games, Williams said.
The team is being cautious with Gordon, who missed the first 29 games of the season with a patella disorder and bone bruise and returned Dec. 29 at Charlotte. He missed 57 of 66 games last season.
“Eric is fine,” Williams said. “He’s certainly not going to play 40 minutes, but we’re going to start increasing it game by game. He’ll be ready to go (Saturday).”
Williams said the Hornets have not set it as a policy to keep Gordon out on the second game of back-to-backs. Williams said after the Houston game that he would evaluate Gordon at Friday’s practice. The team had Thursday off.
“He’s getting more and more game ready each day,” Williams said. “It’s tough to go from not playing at all to jumping in and playing NBA games. I think everybody saw the Charlotte game and went ‘Oh, man!’
“I think we’re going to see more of that. We’d like it to be every night, but the reality is that’s a tough deal. I’m seeing more of himself in practice. Today was a good day to see him in game situations and see other guys play around him.”
The Hornets announced Friday the team waived forward Dominic McGuire.
McGuire, who was signed on Dec. 16 as a free agent, appeared in nine games and averaged 2.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 16.0 minutes per game.
McGuire (6-9, 220) holds career averages of 2.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 340 games with 83 starts.