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Brandon Ingram is on track to return (just) before the end of the regular season. The New Orleans Pelicans forward is expected to be in the lineup for their final regular season game on Sunday when they host the Los Angeles Lakers, Chris Haynes reported on TNT's "NBA Tip-Off" on Thursday.

Ingram hyperextended his left knee on March 21 against the Orlando Magic, and he's missed the Pelicans' past 11 games with a bone bruise. New Orleans lost that game in Orlando, in which Ingram played only 21 minutes, and has gone 6-5 since then. With two games remaining on the schedule, it is 48-32 and sixth in the Western Conference.

The Pelicans' regular-season finale could determine whether they're in the playoffs or the play-in ... or it could be completely meaningless. Their 135-123 victory against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday guaranteed that they will finish no worse than seventh in the Western Conference, but to clinch the sixth spot -- and thereby avoid the play-in -- before Sunday, they need two results to go in their favor on Friday: They must beat the Golden State Warriors on the road, and the seventh-place Phoenix Suns (47-33) must lose in Sacramento.

Another way to put it: New Orleans has a magic number of two (i.e. two combined wins and Suns losses) to clinch a playoff spot outright. Depending on what happens on Friday, it might need a win against the Lakers (or a Suns loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves) on the last day of the regular season to make that happen.

Just before the injury, Ingram told CBS Sports that this iteration of the Pelicans is "the best team that I've been on." Zion Williamson has missed only 12 games all season and has been playing the best all-around basketball of his career for the past few months. CJ McCollum has thrived in an off-ball role and has been scorching -- 27.1 points, 5.7 assists, 46.6% 3-point shooting on 10.5 attempts per game -- in Ingram's absence. Herb Jones has improved as a shooter and passer and will likely make First Team All-Defense. Trey Murphy III came back from a knee injury and a shooting slump to become one of the league's best reserves, headlining a second unit that includes Jose Alvarado, Larry Nance Jr. and Naji Marshall and often changes games.

For a team this deep with talent, the challenge is making the pieces fit. This starts with Ingram, Williamson and McCollum, and it has meant that Ingram's usage rate has dropped from a career-high 30.6% last season to to 27%, the lowest it has been since he arrived in New Orleans. He is still averaging 20.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 33 minutes, though, and the Pelicans need his playmaking.

The coaching staff would surely prefer to have more than one game to reintegrate Ingram before the playoffs, so he can find a rhythm and it can establish a playoff-ready rotation. But hey, it could be much worse -- and, in recent years, it has been. The extremely positive news here is that, for once, it appears that the Pelicans will have all of their core players available when the postseason begins.