After clawing and scraping just to get into the playoffs with Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers could capture the seventh seed in the Western Conference without him.
Wednesday's regular season finale at Staples Center between the Lakers (44-37) and Rockets (45-36) has long been pegged to have playoff implications. The Rockets need a road victory to keep the seventh seed and could go to sixth with a win and a loss by Golden State (46-35) at Portland.
The Lakers, currently in eighth, have a crucial one-game lead over Utah (43-38) but would lose the tiebreaker if knotted with the Jazz. They'll know where they stand when they take the court since Utah plays at Memphis at 8 p.m. in the first game of an ESPN doubleheader.
The difference between the final two seeds could be crucial in the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers beat No. 2 San Antonio on Sunday without Bryant. But they've lost six straight road games against top-seeded Oklahoma City, including three during last year's playoffs.
- Craig Stouffer