Though they hoped a home-heavy stretch would provide a springboard for a playoff push, the Indiana Pacers are instead trying to avoid finishing it with a losing record.
After guard George Hill declared the rest of their games must-win, the Pacers look to get on track by extending their dominance over the Orlando Magic on Thursday night.
Indiana had a hold on seventh place in the Eastern Conference on March 13 before heading into a span with eight of nine at home. The club, however, lost to lowly Brooklyn in its lone road game Saturday and fell to 4-4 during the stretch with Tuesday's 98-96 loss to reeling Chicago.
The Pacers continued to scuffle in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 points on 5-of-22 shooting. They've shot just 28.8 percent in the final 12 minutes over their past three.
"It's real frustrating," All-Star forward Paul George told the team's official website.
George and Ian Mahinmi totaled 38 points on 16-of-28 shooting against the Bulls, but the rest of the Pacers shot just 37 percent. Mahinmi has been a surprising bright spot, averaging 18.3 points while shooting 74.2 percent over the previous three games.
Indiana, which fell into eighth place, needs to take advantage of matchups with Orlando, Philadelphia and New York. The Pacers are a half-game behind Detroit and two ahead of the Bulls as they try to nail down a fifth straight playoff berth.
Finishing higher than eighth could be huge since they've dropped all three meetings with East-best Cleveland and have been ousted by LeBron James-led teams the past three postseasons.
"It's a must-win," Hill said of Thursday's contest. "Any game right now is a must-win."
The Pacers (39-35) haven't had much trouble doing that against the Magic (31-43), winning 15 of the past 17 matchups and eight in a row at home by an average of 18 points, including a 2012 first-round playoff series Indiana won in five games.
They've limited Orlando to 86.7 points per game over the past 18 meetings, though the Magic are feeling good offensively as they continue to get healthier.
Orlando has averaged 125 points while shooting 57.8 percent, including 21 of 46 from 3-point range, in winning back-to-back games for only the second time since Dec. 28-30.
Andrew Nicholson led eight players in double figures with a career-high 24 points on 9-of-9 shooting as the Magic put up their best field-goal percentage (61.5) in eight years and their most points since 2009 in Tuesday's 139-105 home win over Brooklyn.
"It definitely would have meant more if we were chasing a playoff spot but we are still improving and still learning and becoming more familiar with each other," Aaron Gordon said.
After second-leading scorer Victor Oladipo returned from a wrist injury, top scorer and rebounder Nikola Vucevic hopes to play after missing 13 games with a groin injury.
Even without him, the Magic have held a 114-94 scoring advantage in the paint over their last two games. They would appear to have an edge in that area as they go up against an Indiana team that has been outscored 210-156 inside over its last four.
Dewayne Dedmon has stepped up the past two games, totaling 33 points and 17 boards.