The New Orleans Pelicans are well aware that they need to rack up wins on this seven-game homestand to have a decent shot at returning to the postseason.
One of the teams they are hoping to catch is the Houston Rockets, who may be without Dwight Howard as they open what they expect to be a difficult three-game trip Monday night.
New Orleans (16-27) has won a season-high four straight at home and is 3-0 on this homestand after Saturday's 116-99 win over Milwaukee. The Pelicans are shooting 49.8 percent overall on this homestand, including 48.5 percent on 3-pointers after making a franchise-record 17 from beyond the arc against the Bucks.
"I think that we've become very acceptant of our roles," coach Alvin Gentry said. "I think that we're competing at a real high level. I think that they're feeling comfortable."
The Pelicans are looking up at the Rockets, who have won eight of 11 after beating Dallas 115-104 on Sunday. Houston is seventh in the Western Conference ahead of a challenging trip that includes visits to San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
"A really good test for us," star guard James Harden said. "We've been playing relatively well the last few games. We've got another game tomorrow, we've gotta be ready to go, (then) San Antonio obviously and OKC."
Howard missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle, with Clint Capela shifting to center and Corey Brewer moving into the starting lineup. It's not clear if Howard will travel on this trip.
''You don't want to put a timetable on it, but obviously you want him to be healthy so we'll take our time with him,'' interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. ''Every day he gets better. Every day he's doing more and more. So we'll just wait and see. He's heading in the right direction. He hasn't had any setbacks.''
Houston (24-22) has won both games since acquiring Josh Smith from the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday. Smith, who played 55 games for the Rockets a season ago, scored a season-high 16 points Sunday.
"He's a guy again because of his ability again to pass the ball, he's a guy that brings everybody together because he can do that because he can make all the passes, he can make all the plays," Bickerstaff said.
Harden notched his second triple-double of the season with 23 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. Trevor Ariza scored a season-high 29 on 11-of-15 shooting. Ariza is 11 for 20 from long range the past two contests following a six-game stretch where he made nine 3-pointers combined.
''He finally found a rhythm,'' Harden said. ''We knew it was going to come.''
Anthony Davis is averaging 26.0 points over a 5-1 stretch for the Pelicans that includes this home win streak.
It's unclear if Dante Cunningham will return Monday after missing one game with a stomach illness. Alonzo Gee started Saturday, giving the Pelicans their 20th different lineup.
That kind of lack of continuity due to injuries is something New Orleans has had to overcome.
"We've gone through some tough stretches as you know," Gentry said. "But they've kind of hung in and believed in what we're doing and just have gotten better."
Davis averaged 26.5 points and 13.0 rebounds in two meetings with the Rockets that these teams split in December. Harden averaged 24.5 points on 36.6 percent shooting.