It's quite simple for the Los Angeles Lakers heading into their regular-season finale Wednesday night.
Beat the Houston Rockets, and the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoffs is theirs. Lose, and Kobe Bryant may not have to worry about watching his team in the postseason.
Los Angeles could know its postseason fate before they take the court Wednesday, as Utah begins its contest at Memphis 2 1/2 hours before the Lakers and Rockets tip off at Staples Center.
A Jazz loss would give Los Angeles a playoff berth no matter its result, but a Utah victory would force the Lakers (44-37) to knock off Houston to avoid missing the postseason for the first time since 2005.
Los Angeles has won four in a row, but Bryant is facing six-to-nine months of recovery time after having surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon suffered in Friday's 118-116 win over Golden State.
Dwight Howard had 26 points and 17 rebounds while Steve Blake scored a season-high 23 in Sunday's 91-86 home win over San Antonio -- Los Angeles' first-round opponent if it can win Wednesday.
"This is a great opportunity for myself and this team to show who we are," said Howard, averaging 23.6 points over his last five. "We've got to give it everything we've got. We're going to fight to the end and do our best. Despite whatever has happened this season, we've got a chance to win this next game, go into the playoffs and make history.
"With Kobe out, I understand that I have to do more and be more for this team. This is a great opportunity for me, and I believe I can do it."
The Lakers, though, may need a better offensive performance to avoid a third straight loss to Houston after shooting just 36.5 percent Sunday.
"We have players that won't give up, that won't quit," said Pau Gasol, who averaged 23.7 points over his previous three games before scoring seven on 3-of-17 shooting Sunday. "We've been through quite a bit this season, but we're still here, and we're going to continue to be here as long as we can."
Gasol and Howard both were out with injuries when Houston (45-36) beat Los Angeles 125-112 in the most recent meeting Jan. 8 behind James Harden's 31 points.
Harden shot 5 of 18 and scored 16 as the Rockets fell 119-112 at West-worst Phoenix on Monday. That left Houston in danger of falling into the No. 8 spot and a first-round matchup with Oklahoma City -- the team that dealt Harden to the Rockets during the offseason.
"I think that has been one of our problems all season -- focus," said Jeremy Lin, who scored 20 points and is averaging 18.0 in April. "Every game means so much. We are talking about playoff seeding. We are talking about matchups and things that are more important than anything we played for all season."
The Rockets still have a chance to earn the sixth seed with a win and a Golden State loss to Portland on Wednesday. If both teams win, Houston ends up in the seventh spot and will face San Antonio in the first round.
Coach Kevin McHale, though, isn't worried about any of that just yet.
"We are going to play a very determined L.A. team. We have to play well," McHale said.
Houston has won four of the last five meetings with the Lakers, with the loss coming 119-108 on Nov. 18 at Staples Center as Howard finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds.
Lakers guard Steve Nash will not play on Wednesday night (multiple injuries), the 32nd game he will miss on the season.
That's the most regular season games he has missed in a single season in his career.
By comparison, Nash missed just 12 games over the previous 3 seasons combined (1 game missed in 2009-10, 7 missed in 2010-11 and 4 missed in 2011-12).
If the Lakers get into the playoffs, they'll have to do something they've never done before - and that's win a playoff series as a 7 or 8 seed. Since the NBA playoffs expanded to eight teams per conference in 1983-84, the Lakers have been a 7 or 8 seed four times. They lost each of those series.
MOST PLAYOFF APPEARANCES LAST 30 SEASONS - SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU
From Elias: Should the Lakers make the playoffs, what are the chances they would advance? Excluding mid-season trades, just two teams in NBA history won a playoff series in which their regular-season leader in total points played in zero games that postseason. The 1970-71 Lakers and 1985-86 76ers each won one playoff series - the Lakers doing so without Jerry West and the 76ers minus Moses Malone.
NEXT LEVEL: Kobe Bryant has been an integral part of the Lakers' offense this season, scoring 26.7% of the team's points and attempting 25.2% of the team's field goals. Without Kobe, the Lakers have struggled offensively.
- This season, Kobe Bryant had a 31.7 usage percentage, which ranked third in the NBA (min five games played). Usage percentage is defined as the percentage of team's plays while on court.
NEXT LEVEL: James Harden ranks first among 57 NBA players with at least 200 plays as pick-and-roll ball handler this season with 1.004 points per play. He is the only one among this player group averaging more than one point per play in this situation. The Los Angeles Lakers rank in the bottom third in the NBA in points per play defending the pick-and-roll ball handler.
- Harden was the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations most often in the three games against the Lakers this season, using this play 35.4% of the time.