It’s a local race for third place

It looks as if Kobe Bryant will return Friday in San Antonio.

Will it be enough to keep the Lakers ahead of the Clippers for third place in the Western Conference?

The Lakers (40-23) are half a game ahead of the unyielding Clippers, who won for the 13th time in 15 games by beating Denver on Wednesday, 104-98.

The Clippers have won five consecutive games but finish with three of their last four on the road: at Phoenix, home against New Orleans, at New York and at Atlanta.

The Lakers, after visiting San Antonio, play host to Oklahoma City and finish at Sacramento. The Lakers own the tiebreaker against the Clippers (39-23) after winning two of their three regular-season meetings.


Beyond whatever local bragging rights (albeit brief) accompany the team that finishes higher in the standings, the Lakers and Clippers want to finish third to avoid a first-round series against a young, well-rounded Memphis team.

The Grizzlies are almost a lock to finish fifth, while Denver and Dallas are fighting for sixth.

“We would have definitely wanted to win the West, but it didn’t shake out that way,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. “The next-best bet for us is to try and hold on to third place. We’re trying like the dickens to do it, but I’m not going to do it at the cost of somebody’s health or something like that.”

Bryant has missed seven consecutive game because of a sore left shin but went through a solid workout Wednesday and did not report any pain afterward.

In the family

Mychal Thompson, the Lakers’ radio color commentator, got to see his son play in person for the last time this season.

Golden State shooting guard Klay Thompson is making a push for the NBA all-rookie team, averaging 18.4 points in 22 games since the Warriors traded guard Monta Ellis last month.

Thompson had 17 points Wednesday against the Lakers. He leads all rookies in three-point accuracy (43.4% before Wednesday) and is second in rookie free-throw percentage (87%).

Mychal Thompson’s other son, Tristan, is averaging 8.1 points as a rookie forward for Cleveland.