NBA playoff picture: Lakers tighten race in West


Kobe Bryant scored 42 points and carried the Los Angeles Lakers to a big win over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night. The Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets both lost, and now the Lakers are within two games of the No. 7 seed.

Whether you've been waiting for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers to make their move in the Western Conference playoff race, or you've simply been holding out hope that the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz will slip up, Wednesday night in the NBA delivered exactly what you wanted. L.A. pulled out a big win, while the Rockets and Jazz squandered opportunities against eminently beatable opponents, and now the Lakers are just two games out of the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference standings.

The Lakers now have 52.6 percent odds to make the playoffs on ESPN and 56.6 percent odds on Basketball-Reference. The Jazz are the team losing ground, as they now hold just 57.2 percent and 48.3 percent odds on those same sites.

The Lakers inexplicably allowed the Hornets to shoot 56.8 percent from the field during the first half, and New Orleans took a commanding 18-point lead into the final period, but Kobe Bryant saved the day for L.A. He scored 18 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter and dished out four of his team-high 12 assists as the Lakers outscored the Hornets 60-35 in the second half and capped the game with an improbable 36-9 run to escape with a 108-102 road win.

C.A. Clark of Silver Screen and Roll was struck by the resliency of the team in his recap of the win:

The Los Angeles Lakers are not a very good team. Very good teams don't hover around the .500 mark after 75% of the season. Very good teams don't spend three quarters of a must win game in a coma. Very good teams don't give up 100 points in 42 minutes of basketball to a bad offensive team. But the Lakers are becoming a resilient team.


If nothing else, the Lakers have proven that they will have to be killed. They can be wounded with ease. But actually landing that final, incapacitating blow? Good luck with that.

The Jazz are 1.5 games up on the Lakers in the No. 8 slot, but they didn't help themselves last night. Utah led for 11:54 of the final period against the Cavaliers, but they somehow managed to fumble things away in the final minute as Kyrie Irving sparked a 9-0 run to give Cleveland the 104-101 win. For a Jazz team coming off a tough overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, this one was truly a heart-breaker. Utah will take on the Bulls, Knicks, Pistons, Thunder and Grizzlies in their next five games, so things don't get any easier.

The Rockets also suffered a tough loss on Wednesday. James Harden scored 28 points and hit all 16 of his free throw attempts, but when he didn't get calls down the stretch the Rockets unraveled and ceded the game to Dallas. The next five games for Houston include matchups agaisnt the Warriors (2x), Suns (2x) and Timberwolves, so they may be able to hold off the Jazz and Lakers a bit longer.

Up next for the Lakers is this stretch of games: vs. Raptors, vs. Bulls, at Magic, at Hawks and at Pacers.

Western Standings

San Antonio Spurs 62 48-14 .774
Oklahoma City Thunder 60 44-16 .733
Los Angeles Clippers 63 44-19 .698
Memphis Grizzlies 59 40-19 .678
Denver Nuggets 62 40-22 .645
Golden State Warriors 62 35-27 .565
Houston Rockets 62 33-29 .532
Utah Jazz 61 32-29 .525
Los Angeles Lakers 62 31-31 .500
Portland Trail Blazers 60 28-32 .467
Dallas Mavericks 60 27-33 .450
Minnesota Timberwolves 58 21-37 .362
Phoenix Suns 61 21-40 .344
New Orleans Hornets 62 21-41 .339
Sacramento Kings 63 21-42 .333

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