- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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Regardless of what happens with the Utah Jazz's game against the Memphis Grizzlies, if Los Angeles beats Houston, the Lakers secure the No. 7 seed in the West and a first-round series matchup with the San Antonio Spurs.
If that scenario alone doesn't provide enough motivation, Dwight Howard, following shootaround Wednesday, gave a preview of his pregame speech to his teammates.
"All right guys, listen," Howard said, facetiously slipping into character and channeling the movie "300" as he jutted his lower jaw out and flexed his biceps. "They don't think we can do it! It's 300 of us against all the Persians. We got to come out tonight, we got to look death in the eyes and say, 'We don't care if we die, we go hard.'
"Kobe [Bryant is] watching us at home. Dr. [Jerry] Buss is watching us on high. Let's put it out tonight, everything we got! Everything! Leave it on the floor. Pau [Gasol], put your big-boy pants on. Dwight, hit your free throws! Jodie [Meeks], hit those 3s, boy. Now, let's get it. Bring it in! Yeah! Hoo-rah!"
Howard made sure to clarify that his reference to Persians was from the movie "300" and not meant to offend anyone.
All joking aside, if the Lakers fail to qualify for the postseason with a team that came into the season with a near-$100 million payroll and championship aspirations, their season will be considered one of the biggest disappointments in professional sports history.
Missing the playoffs didn't seem to be weighing too heavily on the Lakers' minds on Wednesday, however.
"We have great energy," Howard said. "Everybody is focused when you come in, and shootarounds have been great. We're ready to go."
Houston has lost three of its past five games but leads the league with a 106.1 points per game average and is 2-1 against the Lakers this season.
Even with Bryant's Achilles injury and the challenges Houston poses, the Lakers have reason to feel confident.
Los Angeles has won seven of its past eight games and has gone 27-12 since bottoming out with an 18-25 record after a loss to Memphis on Jan. 23.
If Utah loses to Memphis and the Lakers lose to Houston, they would still get into the playoffs, but would be the No. 8 seed and face the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.
"We don't fear anybody, so we're not going to run," Howard said. "We want to win this game, but we don't fear Oklahoma. They're a great team but I think if we have to play those guys, we're going to go in thinking we can beat those guys."
Not that Howard's teammates wanted to even consider that possibility.
Nash participated in one-on-one drills with Lakers player development coach Phil Handy prior to shootaround Wednesday, a day after receiving an epidural to help alleviate the pain associated with his injured right hip, hamstring and lower back that has kept him out of the lineup the past eight games.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said Nash is improving.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," D'Antoni said. "[He's] a lot better, but he's not ready [Wednesday]. We'll see on Sunday, Saturday, if we can get that far."
Nash's status will be a moot point if the Lakers fail to get into the postseason, of course.
It's a challenge that the Lakers are trying to embrace, from mock motivational speeches from Howard to the words of their coach.
"It's great," D'Antoni said. "It's what we worked for. When we were in the hole, that's what we said, 'Let's just get ourselves into position to where it's in our hands.' And if we're good enough, we'll beat them. If we're not, we weren't going far in the playoffs anyway.
"So, this is an opportunity to show people that, 'You know what? We can do this.' And this is the first obstacle that we have to overcome."
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