Lakers point guard Steve Blake drives past Rockets guard Francisco Garcia… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers headed into Week 25 needing a win in their final day of the regular season to make the playoffs. A Utah Jazz loss gave the Lakers a playoff seeding -- making Wednesday night's battle against the Houston Rockets about which first-round opponent the Lakers would face.
On Monday, Kobe Bryant received the award for NBA Western Conference player of the week for Week 24 -- bittersweet with Bryant out for the year with a torn Achilles' tendon.
With 81 games played, the Lakers still had a chance at four spots in standings from six to nine. Once the Golden State Warriors won Monday night, the Lakers lost their shot at the sixth seed.
The Lakers had hoped to get Steve Nash back from hip/hamstring soreness, but after an epidural injection, he was ruled out for the regular-season finale against the Rockets.
Pau Gasol called his brother Marc Gasol, with the Memphis Grizzlies, asking for some help against the Jazz. The Cleveland Cavaliers were also pulling for Grizzlies to knock out Utah with draft considerations from the Lakers on the line. The Phoenix Suns preferred Utah for similar reasons.
Looking ahead to the Rockets, the Lakers had to try to keep Jeremy Lin struggling, while containing shooters Chandler Parsons and Carlos Delfino. Without Bryant, the Lakers would certainly be outmatched at shooting guard against James Harden. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard would have to take advantage of Houston's lack of size.
Howard said the Lakers didn't need to focus on the pressure of winning on Wednesday -- although a loss might be the beginning of the end for this particular squad of Lakers.
The Jazz fell 86-70 to the Grizzlies, changing the importance of the Lakers-Rockets battle with the Lakers locked in at either the seventh or eighth position.
Seconds into the game against Houston, Howard became the youngest player in history to collect 9,000 rebounds.
After Parsons hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to force overtime, the Lakers finished off Houston 99-95 to end the season at 45-37 in seventh place -- the San Antonio Spurs set to be their first-round opponent. Playoff tickets at Staples Center went on sale Saturday morning.
Howard joked he might consider shooting free throws like Chandler's line-drive three-pointer.
Metta World Peace gave his take on the Spurs. He and brother Daniel Artest found themselves at odds -- San Antonio is a personal favorite of the younger Artest.
The Lakers had a strong 7-1 April to make the playoffs -- yielding Coach Mike D'Antoni the Western Conference coach of the month award from the NBA. Over the last two games, without Bryant and Nash, the Lakers redefined themselves as a stingy, defensive unit.
Howard said he's learned a lot about leadership from Bryant. The injured guard had sent in text messages and calls to Pau Gasol during the game against the Rockets and Spurs earlier in the week.
Both Jordan Hill and Nash returned to practice Friday ahead of the series against San Antonio. Hill was still considered out against San Antonio, but Nash was optimistic he'd be able to play.
The Lakers have a long list of things to do if they want to beat the Spurs, starting with outside shooting to open up the floor for the team's big men.
Despite playing well defensively for much of Game 1 against the Spurs, the Lakers couldn't hit shots and fell 91-79 as San Antonio took a 1-0 series lead.
Manu Ginobili hit a couple of three-point shots in a key stretch to stop a Lakers' third-quarter run. If he's healthy, the Spurs are a less favorable matchup than the Lakers may have hoped.
If the outside shots against the Spurs don't fall, it's going to be a short series.
In other news, the Lakers lost a Memphis-Grizzlies second-round pick on a random drawing done by the NBA to break ties.
Taiwanese animators NMA gave their off-kilter take on Bryant's injury. Time Warner Cable SportsNet gave a behind-the-scenes look at Bryant on the night he tore his Achilles.
On crutches, Bryant received a visit from Lakers Vice President Jim Buss, General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Mike D'Antoni.
Compared with some of the best teams in the league, the Lakers faced significantly more injuries -- yet they finished the year at 28-12. How much credit does D'Antoni deserve for the team's turnaround?
The Lakers will travel to China in October, announcing their 2013-14 preseason schedule.
Oddsmakers gave the Lakers a slim chance to win the 2013 NBA Championship, along with long odds that the team would even get past the Spurs.
Finally, Lakers assistant coach Eddie Jordan agreed to return to Rutgers as head coach.
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