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.
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,
Conley had 21 points on 9-of-19 shooting for the Grizzlies and Zach Randolph added 15 points
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, but a 15-1 run by the Grizzles to start the third resulted in a 54-47 Memphis lead.
The Lakers answered with an 8-0 run of their own top re-take the lead 56-55 and led 68-62 at the end of the quarter.
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 are a 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.