The top spot in the Western Conference might not be the only thing decided in the final regular-season games.
Some voters might simply select Kobe Bryant or New Orleans guard Chris Paul as the league's most valuable player based on which team finishes better in the West, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
"I think winning the West is probably going to be the most important thing as far as that goes. It's going to have a big influence," said Jackson, who has reiterated his support for Bryant numerous times over the last few weeks. But Jackson acknowledged that Paul was also playing at a high level: "I think that Chris has certainly vaulted into that position where he seriously has to be considered."
The Lakers are two games behind the first-place Hornets, with the regular season ending next Wednesday.
There were 129 writers and broadcasters who voted for the MVP award last season. On-the-fence voters get a chance to see the Lakers and Hornets play each other Friday at Staples Center.
Bryant's 28.7-point scoring average this season is second in the league to Cleveland forward LeBron James. Bryant is averaging 6.4 rebounds a game, the second-highest in his career, and 5.4 assists a game, tied for third-best in his career.
Paul is averaging 21.3 points and leads the league in assists (11.4 a game) and steals (2.7 a game) before Wednesday's game.
Bryant, in his 12th season, has never won the award. Paul, in his third season, has also not won it.
The Lakers usually let the fortunes of their players rest on their own achievements, but the team took the added step of sending out pro-Bryant material to NBA writers around the league.
The material was based on an old-style political election campaign and consisted of bumper stickers, campaign buttons, red suspenders and a letter from "campaign manager" Jerry Buss, who urged writers to vote for Bryant.
"From the owner on down, the organization feels that Kobe has had a season worthy of an MVP award," said Tim Harris, the Lakers' chief marketing officer and senior vice president of business operations. "Sending this out is not something we have historically done, but his performance and leadership warrants it."
MVP ballots are due when the regular season ends. The winner is usually announced during the second round of the playoffs, in mid-May.
Of 21 NBA writers polled informally by Mark Heisler, The Times' NBA columnist, 10 selected Bryant, eight selected Paul, two picked Boston forward Kevin Garnett and one chose James.
With an increased number of newspapers withdrawing from voting because of potential conflict-of-interest issues, only six of the 21 planned to vote this season. (Three chose Bryant and three chose Paul.) The Times will not vote for an MVP.
Andrew Bynum flew to New York on Wednesday to see knee specialist David Altchek in hopes of gaining clearance from Altchek and Lakers' doctors to begin practicing with the team.
Bynum, who has been out since Jan. 13, is expected to return today and could begin practicing Saturday if he receives clearance. The Lakers' last two regular-season games are Sunday against San Antonio and Tuesday against Sacramento, both at Staples Center.
The Lakers lead three major categories of NBA.com web traffic, according to results released by the league.
The Lakers' team page is easily the most popular of the 30 team sites, drawing almost 50 million page views this season. Phoenix is a distant second with 33.9 million page views.
Bryant leads all NBA players with more than 2.5 million page views this season. James is second with 2.2 million page views and Denver guard Allen Iverson has 1.4 million page views.
Lakers forward-center Pau Gasol is the most viewed international player in the NBA, accumulating more than 1.3 million page views. Phoenix guard Steve Nash, who is Canadian, is second with one million page views.