- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Playing the Memphis Grizzlies on any given night is like signing up for an MMA fight. The Griz are among the NBA's most physical teams. Nothing comes easy against them and their stout defense, which gives up a league-low 89.8 points a game.
Of course that's nothing new for the Los Angeles Lakers in a difficult season. The next thing that comes easy for the Lakers will be the first.
Friday was no exception as the Lakers held off the Grizzlies 86-84 to maintain a tenuous grip on the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
While L.A. always seemed in control of the game, Memphis was never out of it. It took a key free throw by Dwight Howard with 4.1 seconds left, after a key rebound by Howard off Mike Conley's miss with 4.1 seconds remaining, and every bit of energy Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol had left to pull out the win.
How it happened: The Lakers built a 13-point lead in the first half and a seven-point lead late in the third quarter. But Memphis is the kind of team that never seems to go away. The Grizzlies, who came in having won four in a row, rallied time and again to keep the pressure on the increasingly desperate Lakers.
What it means: After the Utah Jazz took care of business at home against the lowly New Orleans Hornets, the Lakers basically had to win this game to maintain their slim half-game lead in what's shaping up to be a dogfight for the last playoff berth. With Utah owning the season-series tiebreaker, the Lakers need to finish a game ahead of the Jazz to get in as the No. 8 seed. This win was critical.
Hits: With Memphis' interior defense collapsing on Howard every time he tried to post up, Gasol had room to operate out of the high post and had one of his most effective games of the season. Gasol made 8 of 14 shots to finish with 19 points and 9 rebounds.
Clark had another nice game, finishing with 13 points, 5 rebounds and one very impressive fourth-quarter block on Grizzlies guard Quincy Pondexter that you'll be seeing on "SportsCenter."
Misses: Steve Blake had been on a roll coming into this game, averaging 13 points on 52.9 percent shooting in the two games he'd filled in for the injured Steve Nash. But he struggled in this one, finishing with just six points and turning the ball over five times, all in the first half.
Stat of the game: Jamison needed to average 16 points a game over the Lakers' final seven games of the season to get to 20,000 career points. With a badly sprained right (shooting) wrist, it's not going to be easy. But the crafty veteran continues to soldier on, finishing with 13 points in 25 minutes Friday night.
What's next: The Lakers will have a light workout Saturday to prepare for Sunday's 12:30 p.m. PT tip against the Los Angeles Clippers. It figures to be a heated game, because it always is between these two teams, but also because both are playing for playoff seeding, the Clippers for the critical No. 3 seed, the Lakers for the No. 8 spot.
3hMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne