Russell Westbrook Thunder Lakers
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers are just out of the early 2017-2018 NBA playoff picture. Pictured: Russell Westbrook watches a play during a loss to the Lakers at Staples Center on Nov. 22, 2016 in Los Angeles. Harry How/Getty Images)

The Oklahoma City Thunder dropped two games below .500 Thursday night, suffering a frustrating defeat at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets. The Los Angeles Lakers had one of their biggest wins of the 2017-2018 NBA season, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers on a last-second three-pointer by Brandon Ingram.

L.A.’s victory pulled them within two games of Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Standings. The Thunder are now a game out of the playoff race, searching for answers in what’s been an incredibly disappointing start to the year.

This isn’t how the season was supposed to play out when the Thunder traded for Paul George. It was well-known that George preferred to join the Lakers when he informed the Indiana Pacers that he wouldn’t sign a contract extension, but it was Oklahoma City that acquired the small forward in the year before he could hit free agency. The team eventually traded for Carmelo Anthony, as well, forming a Big 3 of Anthony, George and Russell Westbrook that the Thunder hoped could challenge the Golden State Warriors.

Through nearly a third of the season, Oklahoma City doesn’t look anything like a championship contender. The Thunder have to worry about making the playoffs, which wasn’t a problem a year ago when it was just Westbrook and a supporting cast made up of non-All-Stars.

For the Lakers, a 9-15 record wasn’t exactly unexpected. The team has lost no fewer than 55 games in each of the last four seasons, and they didn’t add any established stars in the offseason. Lonzo Ball’s historically bad shooting numbers aside, this is where Los Angeles should be.

But fighting with the Thunder to get into the postseason? Few could’ve predicted that.

Oklahoma City’s loss to Brooklyn snapped a three-game winning streak in which it looked like the Thunder might finally be turning a corner. That came to a screeching halt when they were defeated by one of the NBA’s worst teams, who are playing without a couple of their best players.

With George sitting out because of a calf bruise, Anthony scored just 11 points on 20 shot attempts. Westbrook finished the game with 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists, though he made only two shots in the fourth quarter. Held to just 95 points, the Thunder rank 22nd in offensive efficiency.

Anthony is clearly no longer the All-Star that he once was. In his first year with the team, the former New York Knick is scoring 18.1 points per game on 40.6 percent shooting from the field. He’s making fewer than 34 percent of his three-pointers and averaging fewer than two assists per game.

Los Angeles isn’t any better on the offensive end of the floor, and only two teams average fewer points per possession than the Lakers. The team has largely won games with their defense, ranking eighth in points allowed per possession. The Thunder are second in that category.

There is plenty of time for both teams to jump up several seeds in the West. The No.8 seed Utah Jazz are .500 through 26 games, and only three teams in the conference are more than four games above .500.