LeBron James and Anthony Davis returned from injury but could not stop the Los Angeles Lakers losing 114-111 to the New Orleans Pelicans.
The defeat put the Lakers 11th in the Western Conference, one place below the play-in tournament spots.
Two teams from both conferences can progress via the play-in places to reach the end-of-season play-offs.
James scored 38 points and Davis 23 for the Lakers, who lost a fifth consecutive game.
The Pelicans moved to ninth in the Western Conference.
“It pretty much was a must-win for us and we didn’t get the job done,” said James.
The Lakers, who have a 31-46 win-loss record this season, face the Denver Nuggets on Sunday as they try and catch the San Antonio Spurs, who are in 10th place with a 32-45 record.
“Until it says we’re eliminated, it doesn’t,” said James. “Until that moment, we’ll know what our destiny is, but right now, we don’t.”
The Phoenix Suns, who have secured top place in the Western Conference, suffered a 122-114 defeat by the second-placed Memphis Grizzlies.
The Los Angeles Clippers thrashed the Milwaukee Bucks 153-119, with Robert Covington scoring a career-high 43 points.
Covington hit 11 three-pointers as he helped the Clippers to a franchise-record total during the regular season.
Stephen Curry is set to miss the rest of the regular season for the Golden State Warriors as he recovers from a foot injury that has kept him out of the past seven games.
“He will gradually begin individual on-court activities next week, and his eventual return to practice will be based on his continued progress,” said the Warriors.
“Our next update on his status will be provided on 11 April.”
The Warriors play their final game of the regular season on 10 April against the Pelicans.