Until then, they're doing their best to build up a cushion in the Western Conference standings.
"They're a dangerous team now, they're a very good team now and probably Perkins is going to help them, especially in the playoffs," Gasol said. "But we'll see. That has to be seen and proven."
Andrew Bynum added 16 points and 10 rebounds, but the Lakers still weren't able to simply overpower a Thunder team that added Perkins for interior toughness but won't get him in the lineup for a couple weeks due to a sprained left knee.
Perkins helped Boston beat L.A. for the 2008 title and the Celtics were up 3-2 in last year's finals before he got hurt.
"Kendrick will obviously provide great muscle inside, and he's the best low-post defender we have in the game, so it's a welcome addition for them, I'm sure," Bryant said.
Lamar Odom missed a pair of free throws with 10.9 seconds left to leave the door open for Oklahoma City, but Kevin Durant and James Harden each missed 3-pointers from the top of the key in the closing moments.
The Thunder have lost three straight games for the first time all season. Only San Antonio, Boston and Chicago have made it this far without a losing streak of at least three games.
"Once I let it go, I thought it was good. It rimmed in and out," Durant said. "I felt the same way for James.
"These last couple games, it's felt like nothing has gone our way, but we've got to keep pushing, keep fighting and stay positive."
Russell Westbrook led Oklahoma City with 22 points and Durant scored 21 while being hounded most of the time by Ron Artest. The Thunder were held to a season-low 31 second-half points and scored only 13 in their least productive third quarter of the season.
The Lakers used a similar formula for their win against Oklahoma City earlier this season in Los Angeles, when they held the Thunder to 39 points in the second half after allowing 55 before halftime.
This time, Oklahoma City shot 61 percent in the first half and led by as many as 14 before holding a 56-51 edge at halftime. The Thunder managed just half that percentage in the second half and lost after Durant and Westbrook each had turnovers in the final minute.
Artest stripped Durant of the ball after Bryant's jumper made it 90-87 with 56.4 seconds left, and Westbrook charged into Gasol for an offensive foul with 17.3 seconds remaining.
The Thunder still got one last chance but couldn't convert.
Los Angeles has won four in a row after going into the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak capped by a loss at lowly Cleveland, and has gained three games on the fourth-place Thunder in the standings in the past five days. The Lakers are now 4½ games ahead.
"The rest did the guys some good. It was a chance to kind of recover, regroup, and focus on the opportunity that we have ahead of ourselves," said Bryant, who moved past Elvin Hayes for seventh on the NBA's career scoring list and is 89 points behind Moses Malone for sixth.
None of Oklahoma City's three trade deadline acquisitions -- Perkins, Nazr Mohammed and Nate Robinson -- played although Perkins was the only one unavailable. The Thunder still held their own in the paint after getting outscored there 54-26 in a blowout loss at Orlando on Friday night.
Oklahoma City actually outscored the Lakers 40-34 inside largely by getting perimeter players to the basket, and held a 39-36 rebounding advantage behind Serge Ibaka's 13 boards.
"We're not going to make excuses that we're waiting on Perk to come back," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before the game. "We have enough to win games."
Harden added 14 points off the bench for the Thunder, who have lost six straight national TV games after starting the season 7-0.
"Everybody's fighting for playoff position. It was a fun game, it was back and forth," Durant said. "We just didn't come up on the winning side."
Bryant picked up his 11th technical foul of the season with 59.8 seconds left before halftime when he turned to official Steve Javie to apparently protest a non-call with Thabo Sefolosha guarding him. Players get a one-game suspension if they accrue 16 technical fouls in a season. "I didn't say much of anything," Bryant said. ... Lakers coach Phil Jackson questioned Perkins' playoff impact, despite the fact he helped Boston win the title against L.A. in 2008. "Kendrick's a pretty young guy. I don't know how much experience he has if Garnett's not talking in his ear and sending him where to go. I think he's got the notion but whether he can be a leader and lead that deal, that's another story." ... Brooks said beforehand that Mohammed and Robinson should be ready to contribute immediately. "It probably doesn't say good about my playbook, but I think they picked it up pretty good," he said. "I should just lie to you guys. 'They're only on Page 1 right now.'"