Steve Nash was in the building but not on the bench. Metta World Peace and Jordan Hill were on the bench but unable to play.
So the Lakers pushed onward, short on players, short on offense but just long enough on the scoreboard to win, 86-84, Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.
If the air seemed a little more stifling than usual at Staples Center, it probably was. It's already tension time with a half-dozen regular-season games to go.
BOX SCORE: Lakers 86, Grizzlies 84
But Kobe Bryant had 24 points and nine assists as the Lakers (40-36) stayed a half-game ahead of Utah (40-37) for eighth place in the Western Conference.
Lakers fans stood for the final stressful minute, as if the playoffs arrived long before the April 17 regular-season finale.
After all the timeouts and missed shots down the stretch, the Lakers could finally exhale. Mike Conley was short on a driving layup attempt as time expired, unable to get it far enough over a fast-arriving Dwight Howard.
Gutsiest win of the season?
Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni weighed the question for a couple of seconds.
"A great win, good win," he said. "We'll go on now. We're not out of the woods at all."
It was all a little strange. Bryant was hit with a five-second isolation violation (come again?) and the Gasol brothers got into their first tiff . . . ever?
One unsurprising stat was the Lakers' 18 turnovers, their latest unacceptable foray into too-many territory.
But credit Memphis' defense. In fact, the Lakers didn't score a basket after halftime until Pau Gasol's dunk with 5:55 left in the third quarter. He finished with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Early in the second quarter, Gasol got popped in the face by his brother, Marc, who was charged with a foul and then a technical foul for arguing the call face-to-face with a referee.
"I can't believe [Pau's] brother threw an elbow at him," D'Antoni said wryly. "The family will have to sort that out this summer."
Then there was the unusual call toward the end of the second quarter. A five-second isolation violation on Bryant.
Odd. Maybe World Peace deserves it on occasion, but Bryant?
"That doesn't happen many times," D'Antoni said.
Bryant said it was the first such violation of his career.
He finally got more than a few seconds' worth of rest Friday, playing 43 minutes after logging 95 of 96 in the previous two games.
Conley had 21 points for the Grizzlies (51-25), who are fighting the Clippers and Denver for third in the West. They'll have to keep trying.
Howard was close to fouling Conley on the last-second drive but the referees didn't bite.
"I thought he did a great job," D'Antoni said. "He tried to avoid contact but stayed big enough to bother the shot."
Memphis didn't score again after Zach Randolph's hook with 2:32 left, but the Lakers scored only three points the rest of the way. It was just enough.
Pau Gasol parked comfortably at the elbow most of the game, making eight of 14 shots and moving the ball effortlessly (three assists, no turnovers).
"We're using him the right way," Bryant said. "We're using his strengths — his ability to facilitate and shoot."
Nash remains day-to-day with hip and hamstring injuries. World Peace has started jogging and might slightly beat the estimated six-week recovery timeline after having knee cartilage removed. Hill would return from hip surgery only if the Lakers made it to the conference finals, if at all.
Nobody's predicting that will happen.
But the Lakers are a step closer to making the playoffs, one grueling victory at a time.