Howard and Gasol set to lead the Lakers into the post season?
It all comes down to one game for the Los Angeles Lakers, and the prize couldn’t be any bigger. The Houston Rockets visit the Staples Center on Wednesday night, knowing that the home team may well have to win in order to secure play-off basketball this season.
Having overcome the shock and disappointment of seeing Kobe Bryant sustain a season-ending injury, the Lakers will need to draw on the same spirit and execution that they displayed against the San Antonio Spurs.
Replacing the 27.3 points Bryant averaged is by no means an easy feat, but they showed enough in the win over the Spurs to suggest that the players are ready to step up in his absence.
Eyes will undoubtedly be focused on the game between the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies ahead of tip-off, with the Jazz requiring a win to ensure a nervous finish for the Lakers. However, Mike D’Antoni’s men have their fate in their own hands, and must come up with a plan to overcome the Rockets in order to avoid a disappointing end to the campaign.
Houston lead the season series 2-1, winning the last two meetings on home court and will be a huge threat with James Harden and Jeremy Lin leading a talented roster. However, the Lakers have already defeated them at the Staples Center this season, securing a 119-108 back in November.
The Rockets still have something to play for ahead of the season finale, with the possibility of snatching the sixth seed from the Golden State Warriors. They are currently set to face the San Antonio Spurs in the opening round of the play-offs, but a win on Wednesday could pair them with the Denver Nuggets instead.
There is also the possibility of them falling to eighth, thus setting up a clash with the Oklahoma City Thunder. As a result, they will not be taking this game lightly, and will be desperate to seal the win in order to obtain a favourable play-off draw.
As for the Lakers, they will require a big effort from both Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, while Steve Blake will play an important role too. Howard leads the way for his team with 12.4 rebounds per game this season, and he must have a big night on the boards to help the Lakers dominant.
It could all be made easy should the Jazz fall to the Grizzlies, thus meaning that the Lakers wouldn’t have to defeat Houston in order to reach the post season. However, they will not want to rely on events in Memphis, and will want to do their part of the job successfully.
In what has been a rocky road for the Lakers this season, they have the chance to salvage something from it and secure what at one time appeared an improbable place in the play-offs. Given the absence of their biggest star, it will require an enormous effort from all concerned to will them past the finish line.