The Lakers' slogging effort to creep back into playoff contention may only set themselves up for this reality.

Should the Lakers meet the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, the outcome could become just as ugly as their 122-105 loss Tuesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

As if it were a surprise, the Lakers provided no answer to slowing down Russell Westbrook (37 points) or Kevin Durant (26 points). The Lakers also dropped their sixth consecutive games at Oklahoma City, a troubling concern considering they won't have home-court advantage should they play in the postseason.

The Lakers (30-31) remain 2½ games behind the Utah Jazz (32-28) for the eighth playoff spot, while falling three games behind the Houston Rockets (33-28) for the seventh seed.

The Lakers also provided more tangible evidence their fortunes rest on whether their veteran-laden roster stays healthy.

Kobe Bryant suffered an ulnar nerve contusion on his right elbow, essentially an injury to his funny bone, and asked out of the game midway through the first quarter. Just as he managed to do with the elbow tendinitis he had in his right arm a month ago, Bryant adapted enough to post 30 points on 8-of-19 shooting. He repeatedly adjusted his sleeve and wiggled his right arm. Bryant also leaned more on dribbling with his left hand.

"I'm going to keep playing," said Bryant, who said he had to alter his release. "This is a critical part of the season."

Bryant lacked support.

Dwight Howard appeared limited in every way. He scored only seven points on 1-of-7 shooting, including zero in the second half.

Howard felt bothered by something more than shots. He aggravated the torn labrum in his right shoulder in the first quarter after Lakers forward Metta World Peace accidentally ran into him on a fastbreak. How does this aggravation compare to the others?