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Injured Lakers close to breaking into top eight in West

Pau Gasol blocks Blazers guard Damian Lillard's shot.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves all lost on Wednesday, helping the Lakers inch closer to eighth place.

Riding a three-game winning streak, the Lakers have climbed to 23-26. They’ll play three more on the road, through Boston, Charlotte and Miami, before returning home.

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The schedule got significantly more complicated with Pau Gasol going down with a foot injury that will keep him out for a number of weeks. Dwight Howard’s status (shoulder) is also up in the air.

The seventh-place Utah Jazz (28-22) won on Wednesday, pulling ahead of the Lakers by 4 1/2 games. The Jazz have the head-to-head tiebreaker and the two teams have already completed their season series.

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That’s a lot of ground for the Lakers to make up shorthanded, probably too much. If the eighth seed is the best the Lakers can do, it’s still a ticket to the postseason.

The Rockets (27-24) are now just three games ahead in eighth place. Houston and the Lakers will meet one last time on the final day of the regular season at Staples Center.

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A Lakers’ victory would even the series, triggering conference record as the next tiebreaker. Currently the Lakers have the advantage, making Houston and the eighth seed (somewhat) attainable.

The Trail Blazers (25-24) are two games ahead of the Lakers. Since they’ll meet twice before the season ends, the Lakers can catch Portland with a pair of victories.

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Of course the Lakers need to successfully navigate through the final 33 games. They don’t need to dominate - but they need to keep pace with the Blazers and gain ground on the Rockets.

The Dallas Mavericks (21-28) won on Wednesday but, like the Timberwolves (18-28), they’re behind the Lakers in the standings.

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If the Lakers aren’t winning enough games to hold off the Mavericks and Wolves, they’re not going to catch the Rockets and Blazers.

The next few games will be telling for the Lakers. Their margin for error is very thin. Playing without players like Howard and Gasol - along with Jordan Hill, who is out for the season - puts the Lakers at a serious disadvantage.

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


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