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Utah Loses, Lakers Clinch a Playoff Spot

Well, it seems the 16 teams that will be participating in the NBA playoffs are set in stone.  In a must-win situation for the Utah Jazz, the ball club had an absolutely terrible showing in their final game against the Memphis Grizzlies.  The Grizzlies have defeated the Jazz this evening 86-70, and with Utah's loss, the Los Angeles Lakers have clinched the last playoff spot available in the Western Conference.

For Utah tonight, Al Jefferson produced a solid 22 points and 16 rebounds on 8/19 shooting, but no one else on the squad was able to score in double figures.  As a whole, the team shot 32.1% from the field and 27.3% from beyond the three point line.  Memphis, on the other hand, had three players score in double figures: Darrel Arthur posted 11 points on 5/9, Mike Conley scored 14 on 5/11, and Zach Randolph led the way with 25 points and 19 rebounds on 10/20 from the floor.  The Grizzlies did not shoot a terrific percentage (40%), but their effort on the defensive end allowed them to force Utah into an early offseason.

With the Lakers now possessing a definite playoff spot, the question now is whether they will clinch the 7th seed and play the San Antonio Spurs or clinch the 8th seed and face the Oklahoma City Thunder.  They control their own destiny as they face the Houston Rockets in Staples Center tonight at 7:30.

UPDATE: The Los Angeles Lakers won an absolute thriller over the Houston Rockets and have clinched the seventh seed in the Western Conference. The Lakers were able to defeat the Rockets 99-95 in OT this evening. With the victory, LA ends the season 45-37, which ties the record of Houston. However, since the Lakers have a better winning percentage against Western Conference opponents (28-24 compared to Houston's 24-28), they have clinched the 7th seed and the right to play the 2nd seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. 

What an exciting matchup this turned out to be! With the Lakers up 90-87 with only a few seconds left in regulation, small forward Chandler Parsons of Houston was able to hit a deep three from the top of the key right before the buzzer sounded. In OT, however, the Lakers brought a strong effort defensively and were able to make plays/hit free throws down the stretch. Pau Gasol was an absolute beast tonight for the Lakers, posting a triple double with 17 points on 7/17, 20 rebounds, and 11 assists. Dwight Howard did what he needed to do, scoring 16 points and grabbing 18 boards while providing a strong defensive presence down low. Steve Blake continued his solid play in the absence of Steve Nash, leading the team in points with 24 while dishing out 7 assists and bringing down 7 rebounds. He did not shoot the ball very well (6/20), but his aggressive play has been crucial for the Lakers in the absence of both Nash and Kobe Bryant. Antwan Jamison provided great help as well, posting 16 points on 6/12 off the bench. 

For Houston, James Harden scored 30, but he did so on 8/25 shooting. For a star player, he is really inefficient when it comes to putting the ball in the basket. However, his aggressiveness and ability to get to the free throw line helps, it just so happens it was not enough tonight. Chandler Parsons added 23 points on 10/18, and Jeremy Lin added 12 points and 8 assists on 4/14. 

Overall, it was an exciting game to watch, and it is a relief to know the Lakers ended up with the best-case scenario for the situation they were in heading into the night.