Lakers ready, but Steve Nash out
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers have come down to the final game of their rocky 2012-13 regular season and in a most appropriate scenario, considering everything that's happened to the team this year, L.A.'s postseason fate is still up in the air.
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Wednesday is the final day of the NBA regular season, and there are still playoff spots to be clinched, seeds to be determined and individual honors to be claimed. Gregg Found of ESPN Stats & Information breaks down all of the scenarios. Blog
"It's come down to it's in our hands and that's kind of what we've been playing for and we've wanted, so here it is," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said after practice Tuesday. "Let's go out and get it and take care of our own destiny."
The Lakers (44-37) host the Houston Rockets (45-36) Wednesday at Staples Center.
The Lakers are guaranteed the No. 7 seed with a win over Houston, as they would tie the Rockets in wins, split the season record at 2-2 but win the tiebreaker by having the better overall record against the Western Conference. The Lakers will be the No. 8 seed if both they and the Utah Jazz (43-38) lose.
If Utah beats the Memphis Grizzlies on the road, and the Lakers lose at home to Houston, L.A. will fail to qualify for the postseason.
"My thoughts are, seventh and eighth I feel good," D'Antoni said. "Out, I feel bad."
We thought a lot of times during the year, or during the bad times, that it might come down that we had to beat Houston at home to get into the playoffs and that's what it's come to and now it's just up for us to do it.” -- Mike D'Antoni
The Lakers will have a clearer sense of what's at stake before they tip off against the Rockets as Utah's game against Memphis already will be finished.
"Our whole goal is to win and we have that mindset and do it, so whether [the Jazz] throw out a safety net for you or not [by losing], I don't know if that affects anybody," D'Antoni said.
L.A. comes into the game winners of seven of its past eight and has gone 27-12 since bottoming out with an 18-25 record after a loss to Memphis on Jan. 23. Houston comes in having lost three of its past five games, including a 119-112 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Monday.
"It's another big game; that's what we've been playing it seems like for the last month," said Pau Gasol. "Big game after big game. But we have two days of rest, so we should be mentally and physically ready for the last one."
Houston leads the season series with L.A. 2-1, losing in Los Angeles 119-108 on Nov. 18, when Bernie Bickerstaff was acting interim head coach for the Lakers. The Rockets beat the Lakers in Houston, 107-105 on Dec. 4, and again on Jan. 8, 125-112, in a game that L.A. played without its frontcourt stars of Dwight Howard or Gasol.
The Lakers will be without their Hall of Fame backcourt against Houston. Kobe Bryant is out 6-9 months after surgery on his left Achilles. Steve Nash will miss his eighth straight game because of discomfort to his right hip, hamstring and lower back.
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Nash underwent an MRI exam on Tuesday, which confirmed several preexisting issues related to his hip and back, which are causing nerve irritation and contributing to his hamstring pain and weakness, according to the team. Nash received an epidural injection to try to alleviate the pain.
"He's working through some issues and hopefully if there's anything [left to play for] after tomorrow, then he might be ready," D'Antoni said of Nash. "Hopefully, he'll be ready."
Before the Lakers can think about having Nash back for the postseason, they will have to worry about trying to stop the Rockets, who lead the league in scoring by averaging 106.1 points per game.
"Obviously their offense, their shooting, [James] Harden, [Jeremy] Lin, pick-and-rolls, they get up and down the floor," D'Antoni said when asked about Houston's biggest threats. "There's a lot of things they do really well. They've played well this year and we'll have to duplicate the game we had against San Antonio defensively."
L.A.'s defense looked stellar in its first test without Bryant on Sunday, holding the Spurs to just 86 points on 37.1 percent shooting as a team.
If the Lakers secure the No. 7 seed, they'll face the No. 2-seeded Spurs in the first round. If they're No. 8, they'll face the West's No. 1 seed in the Oklahoma City Thunder for the second consecutive year after being ousted 4-1 in the second round in May.
The Lakers have had the regular-season finale against Houston in their sights for quite some time. Nash told reporters in January that the season could hinge on that game. And in another case of Lakers' foresight, D'Antoni predicted after the All-Star break that L.A. would have to finish 20-8 in their final 28 games to make the playoffs. So far, they're 19-8 with just the Houston game remaining on their schedule.
"You knew more or less where it was going to be," D'Antoni said, when reminded of his prediction. "It's just worked out this way. We thought a lot of times during the year, or during the bad times, that it might come down that we had to beat Houston at home to get into the playoffs and that's what it's come to and now it's just up for us to do it."