The Lakers (44-37) will need to make the playoffs if they want to see Steve Nash back in the lineup.
“He’s close,” said Coach Mike D’Antoni after the team’s final-regular-season shoot-around on Wednesday. “He’s not ready today. We’ll see on Sunday or Saturday, if we can get that far.”
Nash will miss his eighth consecutive game with hip and hamstring soreness as the Lakers play a deciding game against the Houston Rockets (45-36) on Wednesday night. The veteran guard received an epidural injection Tuesday to help alleviate nerve irritation related to his hip and back.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” D’Antoni said. “Just watching him, he looked a lot better. You can see his mood. He’s happier. I can read it.”
The Utah Jazz (43-38) will have either won or lost to the Memphis Grizzlies (55-26) around the same time the Lakers tip off. A Utah loss means the Lakers will have at least clinched the eighth seed. A Jazz victory means the Lakers need a win to make the playoffs (and finish seventh in the Western Conference standings).
“I’m excited to see what we can do,” said D’Antoni after the shoot-around. “This is the fun part. I look forward to playoffs. This is a one-game, home-elimination game. We’ve got everything to shoot for.... I’m sure the players are excited.”
The Lakers have lost two of three games this season against the Rockets. A win evens both the season series and the teams’ final records at 45-37. Houston is the highest-scoring team in the league, posing a challenge for the Lakers, who recently lost Kobe Bryant to a torn Achilles.
“The biggest thing is the speed -- trying to contain [James] Harden as much as you can,” D’Antoni said. “They’re really good at drawing fouls -- and hope that [Carlos] Delfino, [Francisco] Garcia and [Chandler] Parsons, they don’t get off on threes.”
Dwight Howard emphasized the importance of defense for the Lakers to get the win.
“We have to come out and play as hard as we can,” Howard said. “We have to make sure we concentrate on defense -- getting stops, getting back against a team like tonight who wants to get out and run. We have to make sure we get back and protect the paint.”
The Lakers have given up 101.1 points a game this season but held the San Antonio Spurs to just 86 points on Sunday.
“If we’re good enough, then we’ll beat them. If we’re not -- then we weren’t going to get far in the playoffs anyway,” D’Antoni said.
Should the Lakers finish seventh, they’ll face the San Antonio Spurs (58-23). At eighth, they’ll draw the Oklahoma City Thunder (60-21).
“We don’t fear anybody,” Howard said. “We don’t fear Oklahoma. They’re a great team. If we have to play those guys, we’re going to go in thinking that we can beat [them]. It doesn’t matter who we play. It’s about what we do.”