With the NBA Playoffs set to kick off, many teams are using these final few games to gear up for a possible postseason run. For the Los Angeles Lakers, however, they appear to be trying to get any potential loss out of their system before the first tip of the playoffs.
After entering the second half of the season with a blistering 17-1 record, the Lakers has regressed to early season form, losing five straight, and while their playoff position is sound, the erratic play from the defending Champs have many questioning whether they are prepared to defend their title.
Even their head coach.
"Too many turnovers, too many offensive rebounds, (it) goes on and on," Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said. "Poor defensive transition, same old stuff but in greater magnitude."
"You can't turn the switch on and off like that in basketball without having to pay some price. Your game just doesn't come back all of a sudden. (It's understandable) if you had injuries and people were out and there was some sustaining facts behind it, but there's not. Everyone has been here."
Their latest loss, a 120-106 drubbing by the Oklahoma City Thunder, is perhaps their harshest one to date in this new losing streak as the Thunder have all the appearances of being L.A.'s biggest threat in the Western Conference. While the Lakers are piled high with experience and proven veterans, the Thunder are a young and talented squad that is looking to emerge from the pack and the confidence taken from this win over the Lakers could propel them far into the playoffs.
"This was a step in the right direction, but we want to get to something bigger, but it was kind of a statement win for us," Kevin Durant said.
Oklahoma City was led by the duo of Durant and Russell Westbrook, who combined for 57 points in the win. On top of the points, the duo's main contribution was to a defense that confused and flustered the Lakers all night long.
"The fourth-quarter defense was the best as we could possibly play against one of the best teams in basketball," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. "Anytime you can beat the Lakers, it's a good win. They're one of the best teams and they haven't won a lot of games lately, but they're going to be right there."
While the defense of the Thunder was enough to carry the game, L.A.'s defense was enough to lose it. They gave up their most points in a half all season to Oklahoma City in the first half, 66, on their way to this statement loss.
"We're just playing horrible defense right now. We're just making too many mistakes," Bryant said. "The mistakes that we're making are correctable and a good practice session will correct that."
As the losses keep piling up for the Lakers, their playoff seeding is slowly slipping and with two games remaining, against San Antonio and Sacramento, they could fall all the way to fourth in the West. This free-fall of the mighty Los Angeles has many concerned for their playoff future, many except the players in the locker room.
They know what it takes to get the job done, they just need to execute it.