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OT win boosts Lakers to 7th seed

The SportsXchange

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

Obtaining a more advantageous first-round matchup was on the Lakers, though.

And for that matter the Rockets, both teams looking to claim the seventh seed in the Western Conference and with it a date with the San Antonio Spurs rather than the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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

The Rockets led most of the night, but in a late push, the Lakers nudged ahead, only to be caught by Chandler Parsons and his buzzer-beating 3-pointer that sent the game 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.

"It hasn't been easy, it's been a crazy year," Lakers guard Steve Blake said. "We're playing together like a family."

The Lakers (45-37) will open the playoffs against the Spurs (58-24), while the Rockets (45-37) get the Thunder (60-22).

"Obviously I'm really proud the way for a month (the Lakers) had to play in elimination games every night," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, whose team won its final five games, the last two without injured star Kobe Bryant. "The great thing about it is everybody contributed, and somebody did something that we got the win."

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

Parsons answered with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send it to overtime.

Blake, the unlikely Lakers savior the last two games and stepping up huge in the absence of the Bryant, scored 24 points. Pau Gasol finished with a triple-double: 17 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists. Dwight Howard had 16 points and 18 rebounds.

Antawn Jamison added 16 off the Los Angeles bench.

"From where we were 20 or 30 games ago, the seventh seed is pretty good," D'Antoni said.

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.

And now they get a date with the Thunder.

They'll need a better performance than they delivered Wednesday.

"No ball movement at all, too sticky," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We didn't get the ball moving. We couldn't keep them off the boards."

Harden, who made eight of 25 shots, accepted responsibility.

"It was my fault, I couldn't make a shot. All my shots felt good, it's just they were short on the front of the rim," he said.

The Lakers, meanwhile, are surging, even without Bryant, who was lost for the season six days ago with a torn Achilles tendon.

"We stayed strong, and we won for each other," Howard said.

NOTES: Lakers guard Steve Nash, who missed his eighth consecutive game with hamstring and hip issues, is hopeful of returning for the playoffs. Nash has increased his workload, and he went through a pregame workout with assistant coaches Wednesday. D'Antoni said Nash is closing in on a return. "He looked pretty good today," D'Antoni said. "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." ... Howard laughed off the notion the Lakers needed a motivational speech to get up 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." 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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