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Lakers 99, Rockets 95 (OT)

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES - The coveted spot in the playoffs arrived at the Lakers doorstep even before they took the court against the Houston Rockets Wednesday, courtesy of the Memphis Grizzlies' win over the Utah Jazz 2,000 miles away.

Getting a more advantageous first-round opponent was up to the Lakers, though.

Both the Lakers and Rockets were looking to claim the seventh seed in the Western Conference, with the seventh seed earning a date with the San Antonio Spurs rather than the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In that sense, Wednesday was a playoff game of sorts wrapped up in a regular-season finale.

The little game of dodge ball favored the Rockets for most of the night, but in a late push the Lakers nudged ahead only to be caught by Chandler Parsons and his buzzer-beating three-pointer to send it to overtime.

Once there, the Lakers defense took over, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jodie Meeks did just enough offensively and the Lakers prevailed 99-95 at sold out Staples Center.

The Lakers will open the playoffs against the San Antonio while the Rockets get the Thunder.

Meeks hit a pair of free throws with 16.7 seconds remaining to put the Lakers up by three in regulation.

But Parsons answered with a three at the buzzer to force the extra period.

Steve Blake, the unlikely Lakers savior the last two games in the absence of the injured Kobe Bryant, scored 22 points while Gasol added 17 points and 20 rebounds and Howard had 16 points and 18 rebounds.

Antawn Jamison added 16 off the bench.

James Harden had 30 points and Parsons added 23 for the Rockets, who finished the regular season losing four of their last six to tumble into the eighth seed.

The Lakers, meanwhile, won five straight to vault into the seventh spot. The last two wins came without Bryant, who was lost for the season six days ago with a torn Achilles tendon.

NOTES: Lakers guard Steve Nash, who missed his eighth consecutive game with hamstring and hip issues, is hoping to return for the playoffs. Nash has increased his workload, and went through a pregame workout with assistant coaches Wednesday. Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said Nash is closing in on a return. "He's close," D'Antoni said. "He looked pretty good today. That's without me talking to him, but I watched him. You can see his mood. He's happier. I can read him. But we're a ways away. Let's try to get into the playoffs first. Then we'll figure him out."...The Rockets seemed assured of the seventh seed two weeks ago, but a tailspin in which they've lost three of five games, including a stunning 119-112 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Monday, opened the door for the Lakers to overtake them. As a result, they could not afford to rest key players on the final day of the season, needing to beat the Lakers to hold onto the seventh spot and a date with the Spurs...Howard laughed off the notion the Lakers needed a motivational speech to play the Rockets with so much at stake. "I'm going to go watch 'Immortals' and give the speech off that," Howard said. "We just have to go play. Guys know what's at stake. We don't need to have a motivational speech to get these guys motivated. We should already be motivated. We understand what we need to do tonight. I don't think a motivational speech or a motivational song is going to do it." Nevertheless, Howard then -- kiddingly -- broke into an impromptu speech from the movie "300" for reporters. "Listen, they don't think we can do it," Howard said. "It's 300 of us against all the Persians! We have to come out tonight. We got to look death in the eyes and say we don't care if we die! We go hard!"
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