Lakers win, hold onto playoff spot
LOS ANGELES (AP)
Kobe Bryant had 24 points and nine assists, Pau Gasol added 19 points, and the Los Angeles Lakers stayed in the final playoff position in the Western Conference with an 86-84 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.
Dwight Howard hit a free throw with 4.1 seconds left for the Lakers, who have won three straight in the final weeks of their desperate push for a postseason spot. Los Angeles also avoided getting swept in its season series with the Grizzlies, whose four-game winning streak ended.
Mike Conley scored 21 points before missing a potential go-ahead jumper with 5 seconds left and another layup before the buzzer for playoff-bound Memphis, which fell one game behind Denver for the fourth seed in the West. The Grizzlies couldn't score in the final 2 1/2 minutes.
The teams traded the lead down the stretch of a tense fourth quarter. Randolph's jumper with 2:32 left put the Grizzlies up 84-83, but Bryant fed Gasol for a driving layup with 1:36 to play to put the Lakers back ahead.
After Jerryd Bayless missed an open shot, Los Angeles took roughly a full minute off the clock with an offensive rebound and another miss that went out of bounds off the Grizzlies. Bryant missed a 20-footer with 17 seconds left, but Conley missed an open jumper.
Howard grabbed a one-armed rebound while getting fouled, and the All-Star center made one of two free throws. Memphis went right back to Conley, but his twisting drive into the lane didn't produce any points or a foul.
Los Angeles' tumultuous season will come down to the final two weeks, with the high-powered Lakers hoping just to reach the playoffs as the eighth seed. To make the postseason for the 16th time in Bryant's 17 seasons, the Lakers (40-36) must finish one game ahead of Utah, which kept pace with a 95-83 win over New Orleans earlier Friday night.
The Jazz (40-37) appear to have an easier schedule down the stretch than the Lakers, who must visit the Clippers and Portland while also hosting playoff-bound San Antonio, Golden State and Houston.
Nash missed his second straight game with hamstring problems, while World Peace is out following knee surgery. Until the final seconds, Conley dominated his matchup with Nash's replacement, Steve Blake, who had six points and five turnovers.
Bryant sat out just 79 combined seconds of the past two games while pushing the desperate Lakers to victories, even racking up his 19th triple-double Tuesday against Dallas. With an afternoon game against the Clippers looming on Sunday, he got a bit more rest against the Grizzlies.
The Lakers played a solid first half, jumping to a 13-point lead early in the second quarter and grabbing a 46-39 halftime lead. Memphis made its first four shots before missing 13 of its next 17.
But the Grizzlies abruptly took control after halftime, making a 15-1 run while Los Angeles missed its first seven shots and made four turnovers. Just as abruptly, the Lakers reclaimed control with a 19-4 run catalyzed by Bryant.
NOTES: With his first basket against Memphis, Bryant broke his sixth-place tie with Elvin Hayes in NBA history with the 10,977th field goal of his 17-season career. ... More than five years after his departure for Los Angeles, Pau Gasol is still the Grizzlies' franchise career leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots. ... Marc Gasol got a personal foul and a technical foul for arguing in the second quarter after he appeared to clip his brother in the head with an accidental elbow.