The New Orleans Pelicans are entering a difficult stretch that could teach them plenty about their prospects of reaching the postseason for the first time in four seasons.
It begins Thursday night in Houston, where the Rockets open a three-game homestand with their sights set on a season-best fourth straight home win.
The Pelicans (12-12) have been surging offensively, shooting 51.2 percent and scoring 112.5 points per game while winning four of their last six.
"I think it says a lot about this group and where we are going," Ryan Anderson told the team's official website. "Those are big games for us to win."
Anthony Davis scored 31 points on 12-of-15 shooting in Tuesday's 119-111 home win over Utah, his first game back after missing one with a chest injury. The 21-year-old has scored 31 in each of his last two complete games.
Anderson, meanwhile, scored 28 in 27 minutes with a 6-of-10 mark from 3-point range. In the last three games, he's 16 of 32 from long range and averaging 24.3 points.
Tyreke Evans, who added 19 points and is averaging 28.0 while shooting 53.1 percent over his last three, recognized the importance of beating 7-19 Utah before starting a stretch of 12 games against mostly playoff contenders that'll run through Jan. 9.
New Orleans faces Houston and San Antonio twice as well as Portland, Oklahoma City, Chicago, Phoenix, Washington and Memphis in that time.
"We know that we definitely needed that game, so we dug down deep in the fourth," said Evans, whose team will now try to improve on a 4-9 road record.
The Rockets (19-5) won three of four in last season's series and have taken the last six meetings in Houston.
They'll look to improve on offense after shooting 41.2 percent in Wednesday's 115-111 overtime win at Denver. Over the last five games, they've shot 41.5 percent.
Nevertheless, Houston's 10-2 stretch has been an impressive one with its only losses in that time coming against the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State.
James Harden had 41 points and 10 assists against the Nuggets and is averaging 35.8 points over four games, but the league's top scorer is due for a strong showing at home, where he's shot 29.3 percent in the last two games.
That could certainly happen against New Orleans, which has yielded 28.0 points to the 6-foot-5 guard in the last seven matchups. He feels he found his shot late against Denver.
"I couldn't throw a rock in the ocean the first 40-plus minutes of the game, but it's just having confidence," Harden said. "Like I've said before, I work on my shot every day, and confidence is a big thing."
Dwight Howard's return from a right knee strain has been promising with an average of 25.0 points on 59.3 percent shooting and 14.5 rebounds in two games. The injury left him questionable in Denver, so there's a chance Howard could carry the same designation in the second of Houston's back-to-back set.
He's had help in the frontcourt from Donatas Motiejunas, whose emergence continues with Terrence Jones' ongoing absence. Against the Nuggets, the 7-footer had 18 points and is averaging 17.4 in eight games.
The duo could take advantage against the Pelicans, who have allowed 46.2 points in the paint this season for the fourth-highest total in the league. The Jazz scored 68 against them, bumping New Orleans' average to 53.5 over four games.