Lakers win playoff berth against Spurs

Lakers win playoff berth against Spurs

LOS ANGELES - Agence France-Presse
Lakers win playoff berth against Spurs

Spanish power forward Pau Gasol will shoulder Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff hopes in the absence of superstar Kobe Bryant, whose season ended with an injury.

The Los Angeles Lakers gained the last berth in the NBA playoffs courtesy of a Utah defeat on April 17, then battled to a 99-95 overtime victory over Houston in their regular-season finale.

In Memphis, the Grizzlies held the Jazz to their lowest points total of the season, triumphing 86-70 to eliminate Utah from post-season contention.

Utah’s defeat meant the Lakers were assured of a playoff berth before their game against playoff-bound Houston tipped off.

Their close-run victory showed just how tough a task they have ahead of them in a first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs with Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant sidelined after season-ending Achilles tendon surgery.

It’s likely not as tough, however, as a first-round series against Oklahoma City -- which the Lakers avoided with the win.

Pau Gasol notched a triple-double of 17 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists for the Lakers.

Steve Blake led the Lakers in scoring for the second straight game with a season-high 24 points and center Dwight Howard added 16 points and 18 rebounds for Los Angeles, who closed the season with five straight victories despite the devastating loss of Bryant last week.

Although the Lakers shot less than 37 percent from the field, Gasol said their determined defence made the difference.

“We’re just so locked in defensively that we’ve given ourselves a chance in every game, even if offensively we’re not being very effective or sharp at times,” Gasol said, adding that now the Lakers needed to try to “continue with the spirit” in the playoffs.

“I understand it’s going to be very difficult,” he said. “San Antonio is a great team, They’re very experienced. They’re disciplined, they’re extremely well coached and they’re going to play on their home court.

“But we still believe in ourselves,” Gasol said.

Once Utah was out of the picture, the Lakers and Rockets were battling to decide which would be seventh and which eighth in the Western Conference.

James Harden scored 30 points for the Rockets, who ended up as the eighth seed and will face Western Conference top seeds Oklahoma City in the first round.

The Denver Nuggets clinched the third seed in the West with a 118-98 victory over Phoenix and will take on Golden State in the first round. The Warriors closed the regular season with a 99-88 victory over Portland.

Memphis vs Clippers

Memphis, who had 25 points and 19 rebounds from Zach Randolph, was already locked in to the fifth seed in the West. They’ll open the playoffs on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers, who secured home court advantage in the first round with a 112-108 triumph over Sacramento on April 17.

The Clippers beat the Grizzlies in seven games in the first round last season.

“They’ve been a pain in our butts, but we’ve just got to go out there and worry about us, play hard, value every possession, play in-and-out basketball and stick to the things that got us to this point,” Memphis guard Tony Allen said of the rematch.

Reigning NBA champions Miami, with the best record in the league and already assured of the top seed in the East, cruised to a 105-93 victory over Orlando in their regular-season finale, with superstar LeBron James sitting out to rest a sore hamstring for the first-round playoff series against Milwaukee.

In the other Eastern Conference first-round series, the New York Knicks will take on the Boston Celtics, Indiana face Atlanta and Brooklyn take on Chicago.