The Lakers have one more chance Sunday to get a regular-season win against… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
This is the last chance for the Lakers: Swagger or stagger into the playoffs.
Sunday brings a top opponent to Staples Center, Oklahoma City, and the Lakers haven't exactly prospered in these types of game this season, going 1-4 against the Thunder and San Antonio.
Their regular season officially ends Thursday at Sacramento, but this is the final time to remind all involved that they're still a factor in the Western Conference ... and they can even stay ahead of, gulp, the Clippers for third place.
The stat that kills them right now is the average point differential in their losses to the Thunder and Spurs: 17.3 points. Hardly competitive.
Taking it a step further, the Lakers are 1-3 against the top teams in the East, their lone victory a home game against Miami without Chris Bosh. They lost a close one at home to Chicago without Andrew Bynum, got thumped in Miami, and lost another one at home to Indiana, the surprising third-place team in the East.
The one thing the Lakers had in their favor Friday against San Antonio was the return of Kobe Bryant, who had 18 points on seven-for-12 shooting and declared himself "back to 100%."
The rest of his teammates had miserable games — partly lousy at best — in a 121-97 loss, Matt Barnes a lone exception (14 points).
"Being able to make adjustments on the fly is really what the playoffs are about," Bryant said. "It is a game of chess and you have to make adjustments through the course of the game and being able to read each other throughout the game is something we have to do a better job of."
"It comes from timeouts and being on the court," Bryant said. "It comes from communication and reading and reacting. Constant communication between the players and the coach is important to making quick adjustments."
Side note to Lakers Coach Mike Brown: Communication is key.
For the Lakers to beat Oklahoma City, Ramon Sessions must be better than he was against San Antonio. He missed seven of nine shots, had one assist and four fouls in 24 minutes.
After getting beat plenty of times by Tony Parker, Sessions is assigned another top-flight point guard Sunday. Russell Westbrook burned the Lakers for 36 points and six assists in a 102-93 victory last month at Staples Center.
Bynum must also improve from his Friday effort against San Antonio. He took only two rebounds in 30 minutes, 28 fewer than he had the previous week against the Spurs.
"We figured out we should probably block him out," San Antonio forward Tim Duncan told reporters.
There's that, and the Spurs made a ridiculously crisp 61% of their shots, leaving precious few rebounds in the first place.
The Lakers' defense was poor down low, failing to help Sessions on penetration and standing by meekly as Duncan made 10 of 15 shots. The Lakers were throttled in the paint, 54-30, a stat that wouldn't win any playoff games.
Bynum interrupted a reporter who kindly said the Spurs controlled the pace in the second half.
"They controlled the tempo the whole game," he said. "We could not do anything with it."
They'll get a chance for amends Sunday. If they fail, they'll have to wait for the playoffs, however long they survive them.
Bryant leads Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant by one-tenth of a point for the NBA scoring title but said it was "not very important" to win it.
"San Antonio was playing me single-coverage [Friday]," he said. "If it was important, I would've scored 50."
Bryant, in his 16th season, won the scoring title in 2005-06 and 2006-07 and was the runner-up three times.
He is averaging 27.9 points this season, Durant is averaging 27.8 points and Miami forward LeBron James is at 27.1 points.
"You guys know I can get it," Bryant said. "I'm not really tripping about it."
Bryant has played six fewer games than Durant but taken 89 more shots.
Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.