Roughly a quarter of the way into the season, the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans are finding staying healthy to be as difficult as competing in the Southwest Division.
The wounded foes will meet Friday in New Orleans with Memphis aiming for a sixth straight road victory and each team hoping to avoid the division's cellar.
The Pelicans (10-10) have a little more room for optimism on the injury front after Tyreke Evans, who was expected to miss up to two weeks after an ankle sprain Friday, returned without missing a game to score 14 points in Wednesday's 111-106 overtime win over Detroit. The victory snapped a three-game home losing streak.
"I just felt like I could help," said Evans, whose team was already without Anthony Davis due to a broken hand. "Once I felt like I could run and cut side-to-side, I said, 'I'm going to play.'"
They've split four games without Davis and have a plus-8.7 rebounding margin in that time after carrying a 0.2 advantage through 16 games.
That trend was evident again against Detroit, as New Orleans won the rebounding battle 51-43. Center Jason Smith had 22 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.
''He was a monster tonight,'' Pelicans coach Monty Williams said of Smith. ''Here's a guy doing it on both ends of the floor, has a career night and just didn't give in."
Ryan Anderson, who has also missed time due to injury this year, matched Smith with 22 points, including a pair of overtime 3-pointers to nail down the win. He's entered the starting lineup for the last four games and averaged 23.5 points in that time despite struggling with his shot in the last three (31.5 percent).
"It's important that I stay aggressive on this team," Anderson said. "I think coach has a lot of confidence in me, a lot of faith in me and if I'm passive or if I don't take a shot when I'm open, it could hurt the team. So when I get an open chance I want to shoot it confidently. ... You can never give up your confidence on the court, no matter how awful the shooting night you have."
The Pelicans have won back-to-back games against the Grizzlies (10-11) after opening the season series with a 99-84 win in Memphis on Nov. 6.
The Grizzlies have been without center Marc Gasol (sprained left MCL) for eight games, Tony Allen (right hip contusion) for four, forward Ed Davis (left ankle sprain) for three and guard Quincy Pondexter (right foot stress fracture) for two. Allen and Davis are listed as day-to-day while Gasol is out indefinitely and Pondexter is likely done for the season..
They're 3-5 without Gasol and 1-3 since Allen went down after falling 116-100 to Oklahoma City on Wednesday to conclude a 2-4 homestand.
"We just have to keep plugging away and coming to practice every day," coach Dave Joerger told the team's official website. "One thing that is big for me is, I don't want to come to practice every day and it be just a chore. It's not enjoyable what is going on out there. Losing by two or 22, losing at home, we take a great deal of pride in playing at home. It hurts."
Memphis fell to 5-8 at home with Wednesday's loss, but it's playing surprisingly well on the road. The Grizzlies have won five straight on the road and are two wins shy of matching the franchise record, set in 2009-10.