All the playoff combinations and permutations can be reduced to one statement: If the Lakers beat Houston on Wednesday, they finish seventh in the Western Conference.
"I know my math," Pau Gasol said Tuesday.
It makes total sense, given the way the Lakers' season has tumbled and unfolded, lurched and lolled, only to flip upward in the final week.
The Lakers, winners of four consecutive games, want to beat Houston for numerous reasons.
Momentum, obviously, could be carried into the postseason, but the Lakers would also match up better against San Antonio than top-seeded Oklahoma City in the first round.
The Lakers defeated the Spurs on Sunday, 91-86 — their first game since losing Kobe Bryant for the season because of a torn Achilles' tendon — and played well in two earlier losses to San Antonio by a combined five points.
A playoff matchup against Oklahoma City, on the other hand, is not favorable. The Lakers have lost their last six games in Oklahoma City by an average of 14 points.
Small footnote: A Lakers victory Wednesday also means they potentially wouldn't face the Thunder until the conference finals, as if it wouldn't be a challenge for them to even think about getting that far.
Of course, it all gets swept away if the Lakers (44-37) lose to Houston and Utah wins at Memphis. If that's the case, the Lakers miss playoffs for only the fifth time since moving to Los Angeles in 1960.
The Lakers will probably know the final score of the Utah-Memphis game around the time they tip off against Houston at Staples Center. The Jazz plays at 5 p.m. PT, the Lakers at 7:30.
"Regardless of what happens in that game, we still want to win," Gasol said.
If the Lakers fail to make playoffs, it could be Gasol's last game with them, with his $19.3 million salary next season looming ominously a few months before luxury taxes skyrocket. More than anybody on the team, Gasol is a target to be traded or waived this summer via the one-time amnesty provision.
Wednesday also could be Dwight Howard's final game with the Lakers. He becomes a free agent July 1.
He chuckled at a reporter's query about it Tuesday, calling it a "trick question."
"Listen, [Wednesday] is the last regular-season game for us and then we go into the playoffs," he said. "We believe that we can do something special. If we get into the playoffs, we don't fear anybody."
They've got to get there first, which is why Gasol called his brother Marc, Memphis' starting center.
"I told him to please go out there and compete and try to win the [Utah] game," Pau said.
Positive response? A little brotherly help on the way? Not really.
"He said, 'We'll see,' because [Monday] night they played the starters 24 minutes. They'll probably play the same the next game," Pau said.
The Grizzlies are still trying to finish with a better record than the Clippers, their likely first-round opponents. Memphis defeated Dallas on Monday despite Marc's playing just half the game.
Pau, for his part, has played well lately and had plenty of touches Sunday without Bryant in the lineup.
"Kind of, but I don't like why that happened," Gasol said. "The last few games I've been playing better, probably the best I've played the entire season. I just want to keep it up."
Steve Blake had 23 points Sunday against San Antonio, two shy of his career high, but the Lakers can't go much longer without Steve Nash.
Wednesday will mark the eighth consecutive game Nash has missed. An MRI exam Tuesday showed pre-existing issues related to his hip and back injuries that caused nerve irritation and contributed to pain and weakness in his right hamstring.
Nash had an epidural injection and could return to play "in the next several days," the Lakers said in a statement.
"He's working through some issues and hopefully if there's anything after [Wednesday], hopefully he'll be ready," Coach Mike D'Antoni said.
The Lakers would likely begin the playoffs Sunday.
Their point-guard play was woeful behind Blake against San Antonio. Darius Morris made one of six shots and Chris Duhon had three turnovers in four minutes.
There's no telling what Nash will look like when he finally returns for his first game since March 30. The Lakers need him sooner than later because the point guards they'd potentially face in the first round are two of the West's best — San Antonio's Tony Parker or Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook.
Nash is averaging 12.7 points and 6.7 assists this season.
Lakers' lost draft pick
Phoenix fans have never been bigger supporters of Utah.
If the Lakers miss the playoffs, the Suns get the Lakers' first-round draft pick as part of last summer's Nash sign-and-trade deal.
But if the Lakers make the playoffs, their first-round pick goes to Cleveland as part of the trade that brought Ramon Sessions to the Lakers for two months last season. The Suns would then get Miami's first-round pick in a complicated series of agreed-upon draft deals.
Times staff writer Melissa Rohlin and Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.