Clinging to eighth place in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers have a good opportunity to solidify their position this weekend against two of the East's worst teams.
The trip begins Saturday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, who are trying to avoid matching the worst finish in league history, but the Pacers won't take them lightly considering they're coming off a lopsided home loss to another last-place team.
Pacer players said the right things following Friday's practice but they also sounded like their confidence had been shaken a day after a 114-94 loss to Orlando.
"We're not broken," star Paul George said. "This is the team's first year together and we're going to have our bumps and bruises. We're going to have to learn and kinda grow and guide this ship as we go. But we're together and that's the best thing about this situation."
The situation is Indiana's lead over ninth-place Chicago is down to one game and the Bulls own the tiebreaker after beating the Pacers (39-36) on Tuesday to win three of four in the season series.
"We still believe in each other," said Ian Mahinmi, who had six points and three turnovers Thursday after averaging 18.3 points and totaling three giveaways in his previous three. " ... We feel like the whole group wants to turn this thing around."
Shoring up their defense would be a good place to start.
The Pacers gave up 56 points in the paint to the Magic, the third time in four games they allowed at least 54. Their season average is 42.2.
"We take pride in our defense," George said, "and to give up 50-60 points in the paint is unacceptable."
An upsurge of scoring inside has, not surprisingly, dominoed into more points allowed. Over the last four, they're yielding an average of 108.3 points - 7.8 worse than their season average. They're 0-19 when permitting at least 107.
The good news for the Pacers is the 76ers aren't a huge offensive threat, reaching that mark twice in their last 16 games.
Indiana also allowed its fewest points of the season against Philadelphia on March 21, as George scored seven in the last 5:40 to help the Pacers pull away for a 91-75 victory. Indiana has won eight of nine meetings, limiting the 76ers to an average of 78 points in the last three.
Philadelphia (9-67) will complete a back-to-back after shooting 36.7 percent in Friday's 100-91 loss in Charlotte, its 11th straight defeat and 24th in 25 games.
The 76ers must win once more to avoid matching the worst 82-game record in league history. Losing their final six would drop them to 9-73 to tie the mark they set in 1972-73.
Philadelphia was 10 of 39 from 3-point range Friday as the starting backcourt of Isaiah Canaan and Ish Smith combined for eight points on 3-of-18 shooting.
''We needed to make more shots. It's almost that simple," 76ers coach Brett Brown said.
Canaan has been abysmal lately, shooting 23.1 percent in the last four, and scored 15 at Indiana last week.
George scored 34 in a 27-point win at Philadelphia on Nov. 18 and is two 3-pointers away from joining Reggie Miller as the only Pacers with at least 200 3s in a single season. He is still 31 from Miller's franchise record from 1996-97.
George is 6 of 15 from beyond the arc in this season's two meetings with Philadelphia.