Just last week the Los Angeles Lakers were in good position to get the Western Conference’s top seed.
Now there’s no guarantee the two-time defending champs will finish in the top three.
The slumping Lakers look to avoid losing five straight games for the first time in four years Sunday night when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of two teams with faint hopes of surpassing Los Angeles in the standings.
The Lakers (55-24) pulled within 1 1/2 games of West-leading San Antonio on April 1, but haven’t won since, allowing the Spurs to clinch the conference’s top seed.
Los Angeles is now one game ahead of third-place Dallas and two ahead of fourth-place Oklahoma City with three to play. The Lakers own the tiebreaker over both the Mavericks and Thunder, and can clinch the second seed Sunday with a win, coupled with a Dallas home loss to reeling Phoenix.
If Los Angeles doesn’t break out of its funk, however, it could fall to fourth.
The Lakers, who host San Antonio on Tuesday before concluding the regular season Wednesday against Sacramento, are struggling mightily offensively, averaging 87.0 points during their four-game skid.
In Friday’s 93-86 loss to Portland, Los Angeles shot 39.5 percent and turned the ball over 17 times. The Lakers are averaging 18.3 turnovers in the last four games - 5.1 more than their season average.
“It’s a product of not paying attention, not being focused and not playing the game with the right attitude,” coach Phil Jackson said. “As a result, we end up with some losses.”
Jackson has limited his starters’ minutes down the stretch, but even when they’ve been on the court they haven’t gotten the job done. The Lakers were outscored by 25 points during Kobe Bryant’s(notes) 32 minutes Friday, Bryant’s worst plus-minus rating of the season.
“These guys just don’t want to play hard right now,” Jackson said. “I hate to have this setup going into the playoffs when we’re just not playing hard.”
Los Angeles, which hasn’t endured a five-game skid since a dropping seven in a row from March 2-15, 2007, could have trouble getting its offense on track against Oklahoma City.
After clinching the Northwest Division title Wednesday, the Thunder (53-26) beat Denver 104-89 on Friday, their straight victory and 14th in 17 games. They held the Nuggets well below their league-leading average of 106.9 points and forced 19 turnovers.
Beating the Lakers for the first time this season would certainly raise their confidence level even more.
The Thunder have played Los Angeles tough in the first two meetings, trailing by four points or fewer in the final minute each time. In the last game on Feb. 27, Oklahoma City’s James Harden(notes) missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds of a 90-87 loss.
Durant, who is averaging 29.7 points during the Thunder’s winning streak, has struggled in both games against the Lakers, averaging 22.5 points on 36.4 percent shooting. Oklahoma City is 9-11 this season when Durant, who leads the league in scoring at 27.8 ppg, scores 23 or fewer.
Bryant also hasn’t been very productive in the season series with the Thunder, averaging 19.0 points, his fewest against any West opponent.