Mavs open home-and-home set against lowly Hornets

The Dallas Mavericks are in a tough spot in their bid to reach the postseason.

However, they have a nice situation coming over the next few days: a pair of games against the struggling and short-handed Charlotte Hornets. The teams face off Friday night in Dallas before meeting again on Sunday in Charlotte.

These are key games for the Mavericks, who have been teetering near the playoff line in the Western Conference.

Dallas (36-37) has lost two in a row and five of its past seven. The Mavericks’ most recent game was a controversial 127-125 home loss to the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban stated his intention to file a protest over the result due to an incident in the third quarter. After a timeout, the Warriors got an uncontested dunk off an inbounds pass when the Mavericks thought they were supposed to get the ball.

Aside from their anger at the refs, the Mavericks were happy to see Luka Doncic stand out in his return from a five-game absence caused by a left thigh strain. The superstar guard posted 30 points and 17 assists.

“Every time you lose, it’s bad,” Doncic said. “We’ve got to focus (on) what’s next. We’ve got to be focused on winning.”

The Hornets (23-51) have lost five of their past six games, including a 115-96 road setback against the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday.

Guards Terry Rozier (foot) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (shoulder) were unavailable for the Hornets by halftime.

“We’ll get to Dallas and see how they feel,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. “We’re going to have to wait and see who’s available.”

The Hornets finished Thursday night’s game with a further reduced bench because guard Dennis Smith Jr. exited in the third quarter due to an illness. That left Charlotte with seven available players.

“We got disorganized and made some mistakes,” Clifford said. “We don’t have a lot of room for error.”

For the second time in their past three games, the Hornets didn’t have a player reach the 20-point mark.

Guard Kyrie Irving has led the Mavericks in scoring eight times since early February, but he is questionable for the Friday game after sustaining a foot injury earlier in the week and the missing Wednesday contest. He has scored 20 or more points in 12 of 13 games since joining Dallas in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets.

Irving scored 28 points against the Hornets while playing for the Nets on New Year’s Eve. He blistered Charlotte for 33 points in a Dec. 7 game.

Tim Hardaway Jr. also sat out Wednesday because of illness, leaving the Dallas rotation short-handed. Like Irving, he was listed as questionable to play Friday.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks have received nice boosts from rookie guard Jaden Hardy, who scored 27 points off the bench against Golden State.

“Now with Timmy out, you look at Josh (Green) and Hardy getting those minutes,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “Again, Hardy has been fantastic in those minutes.”

Kidd said Hardy is learning when it’s best to drive and when it’s best to slow down and take a jumper.

“As a young player, it takes some time,” Kidd said. “He has the talent to do it, which is always helpful.”

The Friday contest will be the final home game for the Mavericks until a three-game stretch from April 5-9 to conclude the regular season.

Since the loss of rookie center Mark Williams to a thumb injury, the Hornets have taken severe rebounding lumps. The Pelicans pounded Charlotte on the boards by a 52-38 count.

Dallas has rebounding issues as well. The Mavericks have been outrebounded in their past three games, including by 13-board margins against both the Memphis Grizzlies and the Warriors.