The New Orleans Pelicans' playoff hopes looked like they might take a hit with Anthony Davis out. Instead, the team has stayed in the thick of the race by continuing to find ways to score.
With Davis and two of the team's other top scorers out again Sunday night, the Pelicans will try for a season-high fifth straight win by taking advantage of the scuffling Denver Nuggets.
Davis has missed the past three games because of a sprained right shoulder, but New Orleans (31-27) has extended its winning streak to four during his absence and shot 51.3 percent or better in the last three. The Pelicans have averaged 102.8 points during that run after scoring 86.3 per game in a season-worst four consecutive defeats.
They're also without starting point guard Jrue Holiday (leg) and reserve forward Ryan Anderson (knee). Davis, Holiday and Anderson are averaging a combined 53.7 of the team's 99.8 points.
Alexis Ajinca provided a career-best 24 points, including the tiebreaking layup with 25.9 seconds to go, in a 104-102 victory over Miami on Friday. He's averaging 16.7 points on 21-of-28 shooting and 7.0 rebounds while Davis has been out.
Ajinca, who made 9 of 10 shots Friday, averaged 5.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in his first 41 games this season.
"It put a little more pressure on me, but I try to do everything I can to help the team and so far it works well," Ajinca said. "Hopefully it keeps going that way, but I want A.D. to be back. ... Hopefully I can play with him the same way."
His efforts have helped New Orleans pull within one-half game of eighth-place Oklahoma City in the Western Conference.
The Pelicans will try to keep the pressure on and send Denver (20-38) to its 10th straight home loss and 19th loss in 21 games overall.
The Nuggets have been outscored by an average of 19.4 points in a five-game losing streak and given up 110.8 points per game in their past four. They were also held below 40.0 percent shooting for the fifth straight time in a 104-82 drubbing to Utah on Friday, making only 33.3 percent, and have been outrebounded in a franchise-worst 15 straight contests.
Denver's home losing streak is its second longest in one season. The Nuggets dropped 11 in a row from Dec. 16, 1997-Jan. 29, 1998, en route to a franchise-worst 11-71 finish.
"We are about to lose our sanity," guard Ty Lawson said. "These are most games I've lost in my whole career."
Denver has won its past six home games against the Pelicans, including a 117-97 victory Nov. 21 in which it shot 52.4 percent - a season best at home. The Nuggets have taken three in a row overall in the series and won 93-85 in New Orleans on Jan. 28.
Their leading scorer from that game, Arron Afflalo, is now with Portland. Kenneth Faried had 19 points in the home victory in November and is averaging 22.3 in his last four matchups.
Faried, who had a career-best 34 points in a home win over New Orleans on April 2, is averaging only 5.6 points in his last five games.
New Orleans' Tyreke Evans is averaging 20.2 points in his last five contests against Denver and had a team-best 25 in the loss in January. He had 19 points in Friday's win, his most in eight games.