There's little reason to think the Indiana Pacers' five-game homestand won't end positively Thursday night.
The Pacers are at full strength and their opponent far from it. The New Orleans Pelicans also happen to be the team against which Indiana has its longest active winning streak.
Plus, the Pacers are fighting to make the playoffs whereas the injury-ravaged Pelicans are lottery-bound, but New Orleans has been no pushover lately for quality opponents.
"We all understand how important every single game is," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said at Tuesday's practice. "We talk frequently about the fact that we missed the playoffs by one game last year."
Indiana (37-33) is in a tight battle with Chicago and Detroit for the Eastern Conference's final two playoff spots but has only three remaining opponents who are currently above .500. However, Vogel recently mentioned how the Bulls were "getting healthy" - they've played better since Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose returned - and both he and Paul George referenced the Pistons having an easy schedule.
"Right now we don't have the feeling of our spot is guaranteed, and it's good," George said. "We should have a little pressure. Hopefully that makes us perform better."
Indiana has won eight straight over sub-.500 teams after beating Philadelphia 91-75 on Monday. Ty Lawson (foot) returned after missing five games, giving the Pacers an empty injury report for the first time in months.
Nearly all of New Orleans' best players are on it. Anthony Davis recently joined starting guards Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon as being out for the season, second-leading scorer Ryan Anderson could be shut down due to a groin injury, and Norris Cole has missed eight straight games with back soreness.
Even without Davis and Anderson for the past two games, the Pelicans (26-44) have been competitive against likely playoff teams. They beat the Los Angeles Clippers 109-105 on Sunday, then stormed back from a 22-point deficit in the third quarter against Miami to get within five before losing 113-99 on Tuesday.
"We have pride. Everybody wants to win, nobody just wants to lay down," guard Tim Frazier said. "So we're going to go out there and fight until the buzzer sounds. That's the good thing about this team, we're going to continue to fight and continue to rumble until time is up."
Frazier is fighting for a job, having scored in double figures in all four games since being signed to a 10-day contract.
Luke Babbitt scored a season-high 23 on Monday in his second game starting in place of Davis, and Jrue Holliday is averaging 25.3 points over the past three games.
Even with Evans, Anderson and Holiday combining for 63 points, the Pelicans lost to the Pacers 91-86 on Jan. 8. Davis left in the opening minutes with a back bruise in what was Indiana's ninth consecutive victory in the series.
The Pacers haven't lost to New Orleans since April 3, 2011, despite George missing both of last season's matchups and struggling in the one this year with 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting.
He shot 4 of 16 for 15 points on Monday, two days after scoring 45 against Oklahoma City. Indiana is 5-10 when he shoots below 32 percent from the field.
New Orleans is 0-21 when hitting below 42 percent.