The New Orleans Pelicans are getting healthier.
The Cleveland Cavaliers still have a ways to go.
Both teams need all the healthy bodies they can get.
Pelicans point guard Elfrid Payton will play for the third time since returning from a 22-game absence due to a fractured finger when the Pelicans visit the Cavaliers on Saturday.
Payton had nine points and six assists in 24 minutes when he returned for a 123-114 home victory against Minnesota on Monday. His playing time increased to 33 minutes on Wednesday, and he responded with 25 points as New Orleans lost at Brooklyn 126-121.
The Pelicans hope to get forward Nikola Mirotic back from a sprained ankle soon, if not in time for Saturday's game.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers welcomed back Tristan Thompson (ankle) from a 10-game absence and Rodney Hood (Achilles) from a four-game absence on Wednesday against Miami, although All-Star forward Kevin Love (foot surgery) remained sidelined for a 117-91 home loss to Utah on Friday, as did David Nwaba and Ante Zizic.
Matthew Dellavedova joined them on the sideline because of foot soreness.
It was the Cavaliers' eighth consecutive loss as they maintained the worst record in the NBA at 8-31.
New Orleans (17-22) enters the game with the second-worst record in the Western Conference.
The Pelicans gave up 39 first-quarter points to the Nets and dug themselves a significant early hole, which has become a common occurrence.
"We know the story," coach Alvin Gentry said. "We've seen the story before. We're playing uphill. Once again, you're talking about a perfect storm to get back and we almost got there, but we just didn't. You can't start the game and get that type of separation and think that against a team with that kind of firepower that you're going to be able to get all the way back."
Brooklyn led by as many as 24 points and had a 73-58 halftime edge.
Pelicans All-Star forward Anthony Davis set a franchise record with 26 rebounds and scored a game-high 34 points, but it wasn't enough to overcome the poor start.
"It doesn't matter about numbers," Davis said. "I was only worried about the win. We didn't get that, so my numbers don't matter. We've got to do a better job on the defensive end."
Davis said the defense improved in the second half as the Pelicans got more physical and started communicating better.
"When we do that we're a good defensive team," Davis said, "but when we're not, like we played in the first half, we're one of the worst defensive teams in the league."
The Cavaliers are the worst defensive team in the league, at least in terms of points allowed. During their current losing streak, they have been outscored by an average of 17 points per game.
Unlike the Pelicans, the Cavaliers' problems came late against the Jazz. Cleveland led by nine points twice in the second quarter but was outscored 69-42 in the second half.
"This is definitely a pattern that has been happening with us and we've got to find out what's causing it," Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said.
Drew said his players need to have a blue-collar attitude for 48 minutes if they are going to have success, especially while short-handed.
"We've got to be grimy as far as our style of play," Drew said.
"We can't play cute. We can't play pretty. We've got to get on the floor for loose balls. We've got to get our body on people when they go in (the lane). We've got to do all the little things, which add up to be big things."
Updated January 5, 2019