The Los Angeles Lakers franchise knows all about big games. The thing is, those games usually involve getting through the postseason, not getting into it. On Wednesday, the Lakers host the Houston Rockets in the final game of the regular season with an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot and end a tumultuous season on a higher note.
With a win against Houston, L.A. will improve to 45-37 this season and lock down the No. 7 seed in the West. A loss would drop the team's record to 44-38, leaving the door open for the Utah Jazz to win their final game of the season and snag the final playoff seed out of the Lakers' hands.
Even though the Jazz can't pass the Lakers in the standings, they hold the tiebreaker after winning the season series.
Utah finishes its season with a tough road game against the Memphis Grizzlies, a team still vying for homecourt advantage going into Wednesday's game. With a 31-9 record at home this season, Memphis should be a tough matchup for the Jazz, even as they fight to extend their season for at least another few games.
With that said, Los Angeles simply needs to focus on the Rockets. A win not only ensures the Lakers a trip to the postseason, it bumps them ahead of Houston in the standings, which would give the team a slightly easier first-round matchup against the battered San Antonio Spurs.
A loss may still get the Lakers into the postseason as the No. 8 seed, but a first-round matchup against the younger, healthier Oklahoma City Thunder would likely be a tougher challenge.
And while the Rockets have their playoff spot locked up, they have a chance to move up to the No. 6 seed Wednesday with a win, as The Dream Shake, SB Nation's Rockets blog, notes. That wide range of possibilities -- Houston has no idea who it will face in the first round -- makes this a key game for the team.
Without Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, the Lakers will need another big performance from Dwight Howard against Omer Asik. He was fantastic in Sunday's 91-86 win over San Antonio, finishing with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting and 17 rebounds, despite going 7-of-18 from the charity stripe.
Wednesday's game begins at 10:30 p.m. ET, broadcast on ESPN.