Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates a basket against the Lakers. (Sue Ogrocki / Associated…)
The Lakers (39-36) have seven games left to hold off the ninth-place Utah Jazz (39-37). Only the top-eight teams make the postseason in the Western Conference.
The Lakers have just a half-game advantage over Utah. They're also three games behind the seventh-place Houston Rockets (42-33), which makes the eighth seeding the most likely destination if the Lakers make the playoffs -- where they'll draw either the San Antonio Spurs (56-20) or Oklahoma City Thunder (55-20).
On Thursday night the Thunder defeated San Antonio, 100-88, splitting the season series at two apiece. If the two teams finish tied, conference record would be the decider (where the Thunder have the advantage at 35-13 to the Spurs' 32-15).
San Antonio is battling through injuries to Manu Ginobili (hamstring) and Tony Parker (shin). The Spurs have three games left at home against the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves. They'll also visit the Denver Nuggets, Lakers and Golden State Warriors (on the second night of a back-to-back).
The Thunder travel to play the Indiana Pacers on Friday (after playing the Spurs Thursday). They also visit the Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers (on the second night of a back-to-back). Oklahoma City will host the New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks.
Both teams play four teams with records above .500. Neither has an easy schedule, but given the injuries San Antonio faces, the Thunder are in a strong position to finish atop the Western Conference.
If that's the case, in the Lakers would draw the team that ousted them last year in the second round of the playoffs in five games. Over the course of the regular season, the Thunder beat the Lakers three out of four times by an average of 7.3 points.
San Antonio won both meetings against a short-handed Lakers squad by an average of just 2.5 points.
It's only a concern for the Lakers unless they hold off the Jazz, but the injured Spurs may be the better matchup.
But the younger, athletic Thunder are the more-likely opponent.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.