Thanks to a little help from their closest pursuer, the Detroit Pistons for now remain in position to claim a postseason spot.
A winning road trip could go a long way toward keeping them there before their late-season schedule provides a luscious gift.
The Pistons, who lead Chicago by a half-game for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, get an easy matchup against the NBA-worst Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night before a key contest against another team chasing them in the standings.
Detroit (33-32) lost for the third time in five games and fell to 1-1 on its four-game trip with a 118-103 loss at Charlotte on Friday. The club briefly dropped into a tie with the Bulls, but they later lost 118-96 to Miami and returned to ninth place.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 24 points and Reggie Jackson had 20 and 10 rebounds for the Pistons, but big man Andre Drummond attempted only one shot and had five points against a stout Hornets interior defense that entered the game second in the league with an average of 39.3 points allowed in the paint.
"He didn't play with any energy at all," coach Stan Van Gundy said of his 6-11 center. "He didn't roll on his pick and rolls, he didn't run the floor and he didn't go to the offensive glass other than to push people. He basically didn't do anything."
Drummond also had only nine rebounds, marking the fourth time in 65 games that he's failed to reach double digits in both points and boards. The All-Star is averaging 16.6 points and a league-best 15.0 rebounds and leads the NBA with 54 double-doubles.
He'll likely bounce back against the 76ers (9-56), one of the NBA's worst with 45.7 interior points allowed per game. Drummond has dominated in three wins against them this season with an average of 18.3 points on 52.5 percent shooting and 17.3 rebounds.
Jackson has also played well versus Philadelphia this season with 21.7 points per game, and another strong performance could help Detroit to its first four-game sweep of the Sixers since the 1995-96 season. The Pistons swept three meetings in 2005-06.
A victory in Philly would be a big boost before the Pistons close their trip Monday against 10th-place Washington, which is two and a half games behind them in the chase. Things become very favorable from there with a nine-game homestand March 16-April 1.
Philadelphia has yet to win back-to-back games this season and will get another shot after ending a 13-game losing streak with a 95-89 victory over Brooklyn on Friday.
Carl Landry scored 16 and Nerlens Noel had 13 and 11 rebounds for the 76ers, who announced earlier that rookie center Jahlil Okafor will miss the rest of the season because of surgery to repair a small cartilage tear in his right knee.
Okafor, the No. 3 overall pick in last year's draft, averaged a team-high 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games. He'll resume basketball activities in six weeks.
The Sixers then suffered another blow against the Nets when Robert Covington had to be removed on a stretcher and was taken to a hospital with an apparent neck injury after he was kicked in the face by teammate Jerami Grant in a collision under the basket.
"It was a significant collision," coach Brett Brown said. "When you see a player, a teammate, a friend being taken off the court on a stretcher, it's different than someone walking off the court with a sprained ankle."
Philadelphia's only two victories since Jan. 27 have both come against Brooklyn.