The Lakers muscled through two must-win games in a row against a pair of sub-.500 teams (New Orleans and Toronto) but at this stretch of the season, style points are meaningless.
What's important is the Lakers (32-31) gained a full game Friday on both the Utah Jazz (32-30) and Golden State Warriors (35-28). The Houston Rockets (34-29) won in Oakland to stay two games ahead of the Lakers.
The eighth-place Jazz are vulnerable, but only if the Lakers keep winning. Utah owns the tie-breaker, meaning their half-game lead over the Lakers is functionally 1 1/2. Utah still has to play games in New York, Oklahoma City, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Portland, Golden State, Minnesota and Memphis.
The Jazz have already lost eight at home this season and will face a number of playoff-bound teams in Salt Lake City, including the Memphis Grizzlies, Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Knicks and Thunder.