It's been a tough 10 days or so for the Charlotte Hornets. First a 28-year-old woman filed a civil suit against team owner George Shinn on Feb. 6. The woman claims Shinn forced her to perform a sex act on him last November. The very next day, Hornets power forward Anthony Mason was arrested in New York for the statutory rape of two teenagers.

Both Shinn and Mason have publicly stated they are innocent of the charges, and Shinn has even filed a countersuit against the woman, claiming he's the victim of slander and a $5 million extortion attempt. Mason is out of jail on bail and will be in the starting lineup tonight when the Hornets make their only Delta Center appearance of the season to play the Utah Jazz. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.If the off-court distractions weren't bad enough for the Hornets, they've been beset by injuries. Starters Bobby Phills (strained left groin) and Vlade Divac (chipped shin bone, left leg) are on the injured list. So is key reserve (and former Jazz draftee) Dell Curry, although he is nearly ready to be activated. Corey Beck (pulled left groin) is questionable for tonight's game.

Despite all the on- and off-court problems, Charlotte coach Dave Cowens still has his team playing remarkably well. The Hornets are 30-20 and coming off a victory over the 76ers on Friday. They just missed beating the Bulls on Wednesday, losing by a bucket when their last-second 3-pointer missed.

All-Star forward Glen Rice, who scored 40 points on Friday, is one big reason the Hornets are still competitive. He's one of the deadliest long-range shooters in the NBA and is averaging 22.5 points per game. Mason hasn't missed a beat, either, scoring in double figures and pulling down at least eight rebounds in all three games since his arrest. Point guard David Wesley and center Matt Geiger have been solid.

And Vernon Maxwell, a recent addition to the team, has been providing instant offense. "Mad Max" scored 22 points last Tuesday against the Knicks and added 19 Friday against the Sixers.

Maxwell, Jazz fans may remember, has already made a Delta Center stop this year. The hoop vagabond netted a team-high 18 points - in just 14 minutes - less than a month ago when he was with the Orlando Magic. He was cut loose shortly thereafter and signed with the Hornets on Feb. 3.

Maxwell, the former Houston Rockets star who has been in trouble with the law several times over the years, feels for what Mason is going through.

"I just told him if he needed a friend, I was there for him," said Maxwell. "I know because I've been on the other side of that fence before."

The most recent Sting Magazine, the Hornets' fan mag, went to press prior to Mason's rape arrest. The headline accompanying the cover story, which arrived in subscribers' mailboxes last Monday, stated "Anthony Mason - Hornets' Passionate Leader."

The Hornets are hoping their passionate leader will help them earn a few victories on their six-game Western road swing which begins tonight against the Jazz.