Losers of three straight entering the holiday break, the Charlotte Hornets hope a stretch of home games and a key player's return can get them back on track.
Al Jefferson ends a nearly month-long layoff when the slumping Hornets continue their homestand Saturday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Charlotte (15-13) was at first able to withstand Jefferson's absence, initially caused by a left calf strain that kept him out of six games and extended by a five-game suspension for violating the NBA's anti-drug program. The veteran center's interior presence has been missed, though, during a 1-5 stretch that followed a four-game winning streak capped by a 123-99 rout at Memphis on Dec. 11.
The Hornets offset Jefferson's absence that night by making a franchise-record 18 3-pointers in 37 attempts, but the shots haven't been falling of late. They've hit 29.4 percent from 3-point range during the three-game losing streak. Charlotte's lowest field-goal rates of the season have come in the last two games, 34.9 percent in Monday's 102-95 loss at Houston and 35.8 percent in Wednesday's 102-89 defeat to Boston that opened this four-game homestand.
Kemba Walker is 3 for 23 from 3 over his last five games, and Nicolas Batum is 4 for 18 in the past four. The duo combined to go 10 of 16 from beyond the arc against Memphis (16-15), with Walker finishing with 33 points.
"We're getting some good shots, we're just not shooting real well right now," guard Jeremy Lamb said. "But that's the game of basketball. We've just got to keep playing, keep believing in each other."
Rookie Frank Kaminsky did provide a bright spot Wednesday by recording a season-best 23 points.
Generating offense has been a season-long issue for a Grizzlies team whose 96.0 points per game eclipses only one-win Philadelphia. Memphis ranks last in the NBA in 3-point percentage (31.7) and was 3 for 17 in Wednesday's 100-91 loss at Washington.
''Our inability to score at times...(hurt),'' coach Dave Joerger said. ''It was a tough night for us offensively.''
Memphis continues to rely on a defense that's yielding an average of 94.0 points over the past six games and ranks second in the league in turnovers forced (16.8 per game).
The Hornets were hurt by 17 giveaways Wednesday and had 18 that Washington converted into 30 points in last Saturday's 109-101 loss.
''The reoccurring theme for us when we haven't played well in this stretch has been first-quarter turnovers, which have led to getting off to really poor starts,'' coach Steve Clifford said.
Charlotte will need to be aware of Mike Conley, who has registered 14 steals over Memphis' last seven games and is averaging 19.8 points over the past four. The point guard had 21 points Wednesday.
Conley has averaged 17.5 points as the Grizzlies have won six of the past eight meetings.
Charlotte is 11-5 at home but has lost three of four to Memphis as the host.