This was supposed to be an easy stretch of the schedule for the Chicago Bulls, one that would help bolster their chances of reaching the playoffs.
After being swept in a home-and-home set against one of the league's also-rans, however, the visiting Bulls look to rebound Saturday night against the sputtering Orlando Magic before the schedule takes a major turn.
Chicago (36-35) was percentage points ahead of Detroit for eighth place in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, but after back-to-back losses to New York coupled with the Pistons pushing their winning streak to five, the Bulls have dropped two games out of a playoff spot.
Chicago's losses to a New York team 13 games under .500 came after it opened a favorable homestand with wins over Brooklyn, Utah and Sacramento.
''These are two extremely tough losses,'' Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after Thursday's 106-94 defeat at Madison Square Garden. ''I wish I could tell you it was one thing. If we want to have any chance of competing and playing after the regular season we have to find ways to get stops.''
Getting stops has been a major problem over the last two months for Hoiberg's team. The Bulls are yielding an average of 107.5 points in their last 26 games, allowing teams to reach the century mark 24 times. Opponents reached triple digits in 22 of their first 45 games.
The Magic (29-43) rank in the bottom third of the league in scoring, but had 102 in a 13-point home win over the Bulls on March 2, and are averaging 107.6 points in their last eight in Orlando.
Still, Chicago has an advantage seeing as the Magic are mired in a six-game losing streak and will play the second half of a back-to-back. Orlando has lost four straight and nine of 11 in the second game on consecutive nights.
"We can't come out flat (Saturday) because we've been known to come out flat in back-to-backs," Elfrid Payton told the Magic's official website after Friday's 108-97 loss to Miami. "We have to make sure that we're ready to go."
Beating Orlando is crucial for the Bulls, who next host Atlanta on Monday before playing five of six on the road prior to a home date with Cleveland. Excluding the Magic, seven of their next eight are against teams currently in control of a playoff spot.
While stepping up defensively remains a priority for the Bulls, so is getting Jimmy Butler right. Butler, who missed the last meeting with Orlando because of a left knee strain, is clearly hampered by the injury, averaging 14.6 points on 38.0 percent shooting and 4.1 rebounds in playing the last seven games.
Pau Gasol is also dealing with a knee injury and is questionable after sitting out Thursday for the fifth time in seven games.
The Magic have injury problems of their own as Victor Oladipo (right wrist) and Ersan Ilyasova (right shoulder) sat out Friday after being hurt in Wednesday's loss to Detroit.
Like the Bulls, the Magic are also struggling mightily defensively, allowing an average of 110.1 points in their last 20 games, giving up at least 100 19 times. The only time they didn't let a team reach triple figures was when they held Chicago to 89.
In this season's two meetings, Orlando has limited Chicago to an average of 90.5 points and 38.2 percent shooting - 27.7 percent on 3s.
The Magic are 23-8 when holding teams to 101 points or fewer and 6-35 when allowing 102.