Though still alive in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Charlotte Hornets and slumping Indiana Pacers face difficult odds to get in.
Looking to salvage a split in the season series, Charlotte tries to avoid a 12th consecutive road loss to Indiana on Friday night.
The 10th-place Hornets (32-42) are just ahead of the Pacers (32-43), so Charlotte will need to pass two teams to reach the final spot while Indiana will need to pass three.
"There’s nothing that really needs to be said. Everybody knows how much these last games mean to our team, so everybody’s going to come out and try to put their best foot forward," Hornets forward Marvin Williams said. "We’re really trying to push for the eighth and seventh spot and we think we can get there at the end of the day."
The Pacers can secure the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Hornets as they’ve taken two of three meetings, which were decided by a combined 12 points. Indiana won the most recent matchup 103-102 on the road Feb. 8.
The Pacers are 16-3 in the last 19 in the series, and they’ve held the Hornets to an average of 88.6 points during an 11-game home winning streak.
However, Indiana has surrendered 105.7 points per game in dropping nine of 11. The Pacers return home after a winless two-game road swing, falling 111-106 to Brooklyn on Tuesday and 100-87 to Boston on Wednesday.
George Hill had 21 points on 9 of 11 from the field against the Celtics, but Indiana shot 42.0 percent and went 13 of 23 from the foul line.
"It’s very frustrating. Everything is on the line and we are just blowing it away and giving it away. We have to figure out a way to get it done," said Hill, averaging 21.9 points and 57.7 percent shooting in the last 11 games. "Hopefully the basketball gods help us out and some other teams lose that we need to lose and we get a couple more wins."
The Hornets fell 116-104 to the Celtics on Monday before bouncing back to beat Detroit 102-78 two nights later, their second win in three games. Williams had 18 points to lead six players in double figures.
"(Monday) was a game we wish we could’ve won, but at the same time, what can we do?" Walker said. "We’ve got to keep planning for the games ahead and we still have an opportunity to get there. We’ve got to keep playing. It’s not over until it’s over."
Center Al Jefferson has averaged 8.3 points – more than eight below his season mark – and 40.7 percent shooting in the last three games, as he’s struggled with a troublesome right knee that was drained for the third time in eight days prior to Wednesday’s contest. He says he can play about three minutes before the knee starts to stiffen up.
"It’s tough, but I still can play and bring something to the table to help my team win," Jefferson said. "I’ve got to suck it up and I feel like I can play. I’ve just got to do it."
Jefferson has averaged 30.7 points in his last three against the Pacers.