Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) hugs center Dwight Howard after Howard made… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers won a crucial game Friday night, defeating the Memphis Grizzlies, 86-84, at Staples Center.
The Grizzlies give up only 89.8 points a game, best in the NBA. The Lakers were able to win a defensive slugfest by besting Memphis at their own game.
"I think we have a lot of poise -- patience. We're calculated," said Bryant about the team's late stop of a Mike Conley drive. "During the timeout we were able to strategize as a unit what we wanted to do.
"I think that's really the biggest difference," he continued. "When you get in the playoffs you have to be able to scheme well as a group and we're starting to get that."
With the victory, the Lakers stayed a half-game ahead of the ninth place Utah Jazz. The Lakers have won three in a row despite injuries to Steve Nash (hamstring) and Metta World Peace (knee).
"That's all we played, seven guys? Whoa," said Bryant after the game. "It's the homestretch. We'll figure out a way to support each other."
Nash is day to day. World Peace is supposed to be out for another month but he's trying diligently to beat that timeline.
Bryant played almost the entire game over the Lakers' last two wins. Against Memphis he sat for 5-1/2 minutes, including a short stretch in the fourth quarter.
"Steve [Blake] was coming in for [Jody] Meeks and I said, 'Uh uh, I need a minute or else I'm not going to be able to finish this [game],'" said Bryant.
Bryant is excited about the Lakers' level of play defensively.
"We've improved," he said. "We're really taking the taking the time in practice to work on our defense and work on our rotations and supporting each other where it becomes a habit and I think it's paying off."
The Lakers visit the Clippers on Sunday, a team they've lost to three times this season.
"We have to keep them out of transition," said Bryant. "We have to have guys back. We have to get in front of the ball. That's really the big key."
After the Clippers, the Lakers play the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday followed by a visit to the Portland Trail Blazers the following night. They'll finish up the regular season with home games against the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.
"This is the big push for us. We've got a very, very tough stretch but we're excited about it," said Bryant. "If you're going into the playoffs, you want to go in playing the best teams. There's no point in being all excited to get to the first round and get your [rear] kicked. What's the point? You want to be going into the playoffs feeling like you're playing well against top competition and you're ready for the one seed."
The Oklahoma City Thunder climbed ahead of the San Antonio Spurs on Friday for the top spot in the Western Conference. If the standings hold, the Lakers will start the playoffs on the road in Oklahoma City.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.