The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers enter Thursday's game in Oklahoma City needing a win.
The Thunder have struggled over the past three weeks, going 5-7 since Dec. 23. That stretch includes two losses to the Timberwolves and one each to the Mavericks, Wizards and Hawks -- all teams currently on the outside of the playoff race.
A big reason for Oklahoma City's struggles has been its defensive regression.
The Thunder allowed 142 points in Tuesday's loss at Atlanta.
"We were a bit flat," Oklahoma City's Paul George said after the loss.
"These are the games that we've got to be ready for -- the ones where we're supposed to come in and roll them over. Those are the teams that we've got to come out and match the energy they give us."
Oklahoma City (26-17) has allowed 115.7 points per game during their 5-7 stretch, more than 10 points per game above what they were allowing before the swoon.
Los Angeles is in a similarly desperate situation, going 4-7 since the Christmas Day injury to LeBron James.
The Lakers will once again be without James, who will miss his 12th consecutive game with a groin injury.
James continues to progress "right on schedule" his agent, Rich Paul, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, but he will not travel for Los Angeles' two-game road trip that also includes a Saturday stop in Houston.
The team's medical staff evaluated James on Wednesday. The earliest he would return is Monday's home game against the Warriors.
Los Angeles (24-21) will also be without Rajon Rondo for the 12th straight game as well.
Rondo, unlike James, will travel for the game but will be out at least another week after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right ring finger.
With James and Rondo out, second-year guard Lonzo Ball has had to work to fill the leadership void as much as he can.
When the Lakers have had success without James, it has been in large part due to their defense. Ball has played a big role there as well.
"Unfortunately as of late, we haven't been scoring, but our defense has been pretty steady for the most part," Ball said. "And that's what we try to lean on."
But with the upcoming three-game stretch coming against three of the Western Conference's best, Ball will be particularly important.
"It's a tough stretch for anyone," Ball said. "But we can't make excuses. It's the NBA. Everybody's good."
Oklahoma City backup center Nerlens Noel is available to play after missing three consecutive games with a concussion after a collision under the basket Jan. 8 against Minnesota.
The Thunder figure to be without Alex Abrines, who hasn't played since Dec. 23. Abrines was out first with an illness and then due to personal reasons, though has spent time with the team in practices and shoot-arounds over the past two weeks.
--Field Level Media
Thunder, Lakers meet needing a slump-busting win
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