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Preview: Lakers vs. Houston Rockets

Last season the Lakers (45-37) defeated the Houston Rockets (45-37) on the final day of the regular season, 99-95, locking in the seventh seed ahead of the eighth-place Rockets despite playing without Kobe Bryant (Achilles' tendon).

A year later and Dwight Howard is no longer a Laker but part of a Houston team that has already exceeded last season's record at 51-25.

The 45-win mark of last season was enough for the Lakers and Rockets, but this season the Phoenix Suns are in eighth place in the Western Conference with a 46-31 record.

Houston has clinched a postseason berth but it is still battling for playoff position.

The Lakers (24-52) still don't have Bryant back after a knee injury sidelined him after six games.  The only real question remaining over the final five games of the 2013-14 regular season is how high in the NBA draft lottery can the Lakers climb.

Jordan Farmar (groin) has said he will play Tuesday and Steve Nash (back) is day to day.  Pau Gasol (vertigo), Chris Kaman (calf), Xavier Henry (knee, wrist) and Kent Bazemore (foot) are also out.

Howard isn't expected to play because of an ankle injury.

Key matchup

James Harden is clearly the biggest offensive threat on the Rockets, averaging 25.4 points and 5.8 assists.

The Lakers might get big scoring from guards like Nick Young or Jodie Meeks, but matching Harden will be a task.

Perhaps the bigger worry is center Omer Asik, who has been languishing for most the season behind Howard while also dealing with a number of nagging injuries.

Asik had 18 points and 23 rebounds Sunday in place of Howard, helping Houston to a 130-125 overtime win against the Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers have relied heavily on Jordan Hill in the absence of Gasol and Kaman.  On Sunday, Hill scored 22 points on 10-for-14 shooting in the Lakers' loss to the Clippers.

If the defensive-minded Asik can keep Hill under wraps, the Lakers will lose whatever advantage they might have inside offensively.

X-factor

Chandler Parsons is an ideal third option for the Rockets. He is averaging 16.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists.

Parsons always seems to have big games against the Lakers.

With Bazemore out and Farmar possibly returning, the Lakers should improve at point guard.  Although Bazemore did a reasonable job out of position while backing up starter Kendall Marshall, Farmar has been a positive for the Lakers.

Unfortunately for the team, Farmar has made only 36 appearances because of hamstring and groin issues.

Farmar is averaging 10.4 points and 4.7 assists on 43.0% shooting from the field and 45.7% from three-point range.

Outlook

The Rockets need the win. Without Howard, the team is still similar to the group that won 45 games last season.

This Lakers are shorthanded and looking forward to summer vacation.

ALSO:

Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash per-minute-played earnings are off the charts

After 50th loss, Lakers in 6th position for NBA draft lottery

Without changes, Jordan Hill unlikely to return to Lakers

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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