Lakers forward Earl Clark tries to block a shot by Spurs center Tiago Splitter… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Lakers 91, Spurs 86 (final)
The Lakers claimed another must-win game, defeating the mighty San Antonio Spurs, 91-86, without Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
With the win, the Lakers improve to 44-37. A victory on Wednesday against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center guarantees the team a playoff berth. They can also clinch a postseason berth if the Utah Jazz lose Monday night in Minneapolis to the Timberwolves.
BOX SCORE: Lakers 91, San Antonio 86
Starting a backcourt of Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks, the Lakers battled defensively all night, holding the Spurs to 37.8% shooting from the field. The Lakers struggled without their leading scorer, shooting 36.5%. Bryant is out for the season after tearing his left Achilles' tendon.
Dwight Howard led all scorers with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He converted 8 of 17 free throws, including two the team needed badly with 1:37 left in the game. Howard also collected 17 rebounds and blocked three shots.
Blake scored 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting while dishing four assists and taking five rebounds. Antawn Jamison made three three-pointers in the fourth quarter and Meeks added two to help the Lakers push the lead to 11 points at one time.
Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 23 points, including a number of powerful dunks in the fourth quarter. Danny Green added 16 points.
Pau Gasol had a miserable shooting night, hitting only 3 of 17 from the field for seven points, but he collected 16 rebounds and had three blocks.
Tony Parker struggled for the Spurs, making only 1 of 10 from the field for four points to go along with a game-high eight assists.
Darius Morris returned to the rotation, giving the Lakers a contribution despite scoring just two points on 1-6 shooting. Morris finished with four assists and helped the Lakers handle San Antonio defensively.
The Spurs fall to 58-22, a game behind the first-place Oklahoma City Thunder (59-21).
Lakers 61, Spurs 61 (end of third quarter)
Neither team can shoot tonight.
Coach Gregg Popovich resorted to intentionally fouling Lakers center Dwight Howard. It wasn't pretty but with both teams fighting for playoff positioning, the Lakers and Spurs finished the third quarter tied.
Howard and point guard Steve Blake were the leading scorers for the Lakers at 20 points apiece. Howard hit 6 of 15 from the free-throw line, including his last two to tie the score.
The Spurs have been led by power forward Tim Duncan with 12 points. Center Tiago Splitter has a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
Pau Gasol and Howard both had 14 rebounds. Gasol shot only 2-of-14 from the field as the Lakers shot 31.8%. The Spurs shot 33.3% from the field.
Lakers 43, Spurs 43 (halftime)
Despite playing without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers kept pace with the Spurs through 24 minutes. Gary Neal hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to tie the score heading into halftime.
Steve Blake has scored 18 points in 20 minutes, hitting 4-of-5 from three-point range to lead all scorers. Dwight Howard had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Lakers, who shot only 35.6% from the field.
Tim Duncan has scored 10 points to lead the Spurs, who are shooting only 34.9% from the field.
Pau Gasol had a difficult first half, hitting one of 10 shots.
Spurs 23, Lakers 22 (end of first quarter)
The Lakers kept pace with the Spurs in a hard-fought first quarter.
Metta World Peace rejoined the starting lineup alongside Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks.
Dwight Howard led all scorers with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting.
Tim Duncan led the Spurs with eight points, also on 4-of-7 from the field.
The Lakers shot only 38.1% from the field compared to 47.4% for the Spurs, yet only trailed by one. Both teams had 10 rebounds and six turnovers.
The Lakers (43-37) will face the San Antonio Spurs (58-21) on Sunday night without Kobe Bryant, who underwent surgery on Saturday for a torn left Achilles' tendon.
The Spurs are still trying to catch the Oklahoma City Thunder for the top seeding in the Western Conference.
The Lakers need the win to make sure they stay ahead of the ninth-place Utah Jazz.
The Lakers will also be without Steve Nash; the Spurs are without Manu Ginobili.
For a more in-depth breakdown, check out Preview: Lakers vs. Spurs.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.