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Lakers squeak out win against Memphis, hold on to last playoff spot

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- With the season winding down, time is of the essence for the Lakers, who inexplicably find themselves in the fight of their lives to reach the playoffs.

Their rail-thin half-game lead over the Utah Jazz for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference had evaporated by the third quarter of their home game against the Memphis Grizzlies Friday -- thanks to the Jazz beating the New Orleans Hornets in Salt Lake City -- which only added to the desperation and importance of their own task against the Grizzlies.

And Memphis was in no mood to cater to the Lakers needs, dragging them deep into the fourth quarter of a tight game before the Lakers nudged ahead in an 86-84 victory to keep their slim advantage over the Jazz intact.

Mike Conley missed two shots in the final seconds, one that could have put the Grizzlies ahead and the last that would have tied it as time expired.

Kobe Bryant finished with 24 points and nine assists for the Lakers, Pau Gasol had 19 points and nine rebounds and Dwight Howard had nine points and 10 rebounds.

"We just had to come up with stops, effort and communication and we did," Gasol said. "We won by two points, but we'll take it. It's a great win for us against a great team. We're happy about it."

Conley had 21 points on 9 of 19 shooting for the Grizzlies and Zach Randolph added 15 points.

But the Grizzlies could not find the basket over the final 2:32.

"We executed like we were supposed to and tried to get a shot up," Conley said. "We tried to get some penetration and see what we could make out of it, but tonight it just didn't work out."

Meanwhile the Lakers turn their attention to a visit against the cross-town rival Clippers.

"We still have six more games, so we're not out of the woods at all. We don't think we are," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We know every game has got to be a win."

The Lakers led by as many as 13 points in the first half, thanks mostly to the Grizzlies 41.5-percent field-goal shooting, Bryant's 14 points and Gasol's 12.

Still, by the end of the half the lead was down to just 46-39, and a 15-1 run by the Grizzles to start the third resulted in a 54-47 Memphis lead.

"We knew that third quarter was going to be huge for us that we needed to come out with a different gear, a different level of intensity. And we did that," Conley said.

The Lakers answered with an 8-0 run of their own top retake the lead at 56-55.

Los Angeles led 68-62 at the end of the quarter.

"They just made too many runs at the end of the third quarter," Conley said.

As a result, the Lakers hang on to their slim lead against the Jazz.

"We have big games coming up against tough opponents," Bryant said. "I think at this point in the season it should be very easy for us to maintain our focus."

NOTES: As expected, Lakers point guard Steve Nash was a no-go as he deals with a hip and hamstring issues. In a season in which Nash has dealt with various injuries, the latest ailments have sidelined him two consecutive games. Nash hopes to suit up Sunday when the Lakers play the Clippers in another extremely important game. Steve Blake, who is averaging 13 points the last two games, again drew the start in Nash's absence. ... Gasol is practical about where the Lakers stand as they fight for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with six games remaining: "It's not what we expected at the beginning of the year. But that's' where we are. We have to make the best out of it and try to make a good push here and do the best we can." Gasol is not considering the possibility of the Lakers missing the playoffs: "Anything is possible, but it's not something that should be on our mind. We should do whatever it takes to make it and be successful," he said. ... The Grizzlies' 54 wins coming into Friday are a new franchise record and the 21 road wins coming in are also a new mark. In winning 21 away from home, Memphis guarantees its first winning season on the road in franchise history.
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