LOS ANGELES -- Without the injured Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard took center stage to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a crucial 91-86 win over the visiting San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night at Staples Center.
With the win, Los Angeles increased its lead to 1.5 games over Utah for the Western Conference No. 8 seed, and the Lakers would lock up the playoff spot with a season-ending victory over Houston on Wednesday at home.
Los Angeles needed a late-game run to seize control after the teams traded baskets for the first three quarters. San Antonio had a one-point first-quarter lead but the game was tied at 43 at the half and at 61 after three before the Lakers took a nine-point advantage late in the game and closed out the Spurs to win their seventh in eight games.
Bryant's season-ending injury -- a torn left Achilles tendon against Golden State on Friday that required surgery and will sideline him an estimated 6-to-9 months -- could have been the final curtain on the Lakers' season. But Los Angeles sealed up the two-point win over the Warriors by turning to Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, and they did so again on Sunday, gaining an additional boost from an unlikely source.
Howard had 26 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks, Gasol added seven points, six rebounds and three blocks and Steve Blake chipped in an important 23 points for the Lakers.
Los Angeles won on Sunday, though, primarily turning to its defense.
The Lakers held San Antonio to just 37.8 percent shooting, including 1-for-10 from the field from point guard Tony Parker.
Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 23 points and Danny Green added 16.
NOTES: The Lakers remain plagued by injuries aside from Bryant as Steve Nash (hamstring) and Jordan Hill (hip) missed the game and Gasol (foot), Howard (shoulder), Jamison (wrist) and World Peace (knee) played through pain. ... With Bryant sidelined for the remainder of the year, the Lakers re-signed Andrew Goudelock from the NBA D-League. Goudelock played in 40 games with Los Angeles last season but was waived on Oct. 27. ... Manu Ginobili (hamstring) and Boris Diaw (back) remain out for the Spurs. ... San Antonio entered the game with a 2-0 lead in the season series after winning 2-of-3 from the Lakers in 2011-12. ... The Spurs entered the game 7-3 against the Lakers in their last 10 and San Antonio is an impressive 14-11 against Los Angeles at Staples Center. ... The Lakers came into the game 65-39 without Bryant in the lineup during his 17-year NBA career. ... The Spurs rank in the top-10 in the league in nine statistical categories, the Lakers only two. San Antonio ranks seventh in offensive efficiency (106.5) and third in defensive efficiency (99.0).