This might not be a must-win game for the Los Angeles Lakers, but it has to feel like it.
Facing the squad they’re chasing for the West’s final playoff spot—as well as the conference’s hottest team—the Lakers look to halt their longest losing streak in 11 years when they visit the Denver Nuggets.
A loss in Thursday not only would be its seventh in a row, but Los Angeles would fall 5 1/2 games behind eighth-place Denver with 14 games remaining and blow its chance to win the season series from the Nuggets.
The Lakers, who also trail Minnesota in the race for the West’s final postseason berth, are trying to halt their worst slide since closing the 1993-94 season with 10 consecutive losses.
They haven’t appeared desperate to break it, particularly at the defensive end. Los Angeles has allowed its last three opponents to shoot a combined 52.7 percent from the field. In losing 11 of their last 15 games, the Lakers have given up an average of 105.5 points.
“The frustrating part is our defense. We’re doing a terrible job of team defense,” Kobe Bryant said after scoring 43 points in Monday’s 115-107 loss to Utah.
The Jazz, who were without top scorer Carlos Boozer, had lost nine in a row and hadn’t scored 100 points since Feb. 25.
Bryant has been a member of the NBA’s all-defensive first team the last two seasons, but it hasn’t shown lately. He guarded Seattle’s Ronald Murray and Utah’s Gordan Giricek in the last two games, and those players scored a combined 47 points.
“You can’t give up 100 points every night and expect to make the playoffs,” Lakers coach Frank Hamblen said.
Hamblen is on the verge of becoming the coach of the first Lakers team not to qualify for the postseason since 1993-94.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, are inching closer to the playoffs, having won four straight and 12 of 13. They’ve even moved within two games of Memphis for seventh place.
“Our confidence right now is so high that even if a team makes a run, we keep our composure,” said Carmelo Anthony, who had 14 points in just 23 minutes of Monday’s 127-98 rout of Washington.
The Lakers’ struggles on defense could get worse against a Denver team that has scored at least 114 points and won by 11 or more in each of its last four games. The Nuggets have trailed for just 1 minute, 15 seconds during the win streak.
Both teams could be missing their leading rebounder. Lakers forward Lamar Odom has sat out the last two games with an injured shoulder, and Nuggets center Marcus Camby sprained his right ankle in the third quarter Monday.