Narrow win keeps Lakers’ hopes alive for a play-in spot
Los Angeles Lakers raised its 2020 NBA championship banner on Wednesday before scraping to a 124-122 victory over the hapless Houston Rockets to keep alive its hopes of direct entry to the 2021 playoffs.
Atlanta Hawks clinched its first playoff berth since 2016 with a 120-116 come-from-behind victory over the Washington Wizards, and the New York Knicks was assured of its first post-season spot since 2013 when Boston Celtics fell 102-94 to Cleveland Cavaliers.
With the regular season speeding toward its close on Sunday, the Lakers remained outside the top six in the Western Conference and likely looking at having to advance through the play-in tournament for the teams ranked seventh through 10th in each conference.
Lakers reserve Kyle Kuzma drove for the go-ahead layup with 6.9 seconds remaining, putting Los Angeles up 123-122 after it had surrendered nine straight points to fall one point down.
Lakers forward Wesley Matthews then managed to poke the ball away from Houston’s Kelly Olynyk on what would be the Rockets’ final possession, and Talen Horton-Tucker made a free-throw to complete the scoring.
The teams occupying the final two playoff spots in the West, Portland and Dallas, both won on Wednesday, Portland downing the league-leading Utah Jazz 105-98 and Dallas beating the New Orleans Pelicans 125-107.
Harden is back
Elsewhere in the East, James Harden returned from a nagging hamstring injury to score 18 points with 11 assists and seven rebounds in Brooklyn Nets’ wire-to-wire 128-116 victory over San Antonio Spurs.
The victory left the Nets with a slim hope of catching the Philadelphia 76ers for the top seed in the East.
The Spursare in 10th place in the West, with a two-game lead over the Sacramento Kings for the final play-in spot.
The results: Atlanta 120 bt Washington 116; Brooklyn 128 bt San Antonio 116; Cleveland 102 bt Boston 94; Dallas 125 bt New Orleans 107; Portland 105 bt Utah 98; LA Lakers 124 bt Houston 122.
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