Lakers edge closer
Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers grabs the rebound in this bit of action versus the Houston Rockets at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Lakers edge closer

(Agence France-Presse) - May 14, 2021 - 12:00am

Los Angeles, California – The Los Angeles Lakers raised their 2020 NBA championship banner Wednesday, then scraped a 124-122 victory over the hapless Houston Rockets to keep alive their hopes of direct entry to the 2021 playoffs.

The Atlanta Hawks clinched their first playoff berth since 2016 with a 120-116 come-from-behind victory over the Washington Wizards, and the New York Knicks were assured of their first post-season spot since 2013 when the Boston Celtics fell 102-94 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But 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 they 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.

Even with superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis sidelined by injuries, the Lakers wouldn’t have expected to cut it so fine against a Rockets team that owns the worst record in the league.

Before tip-off, a crowd of 4,087 saw the Lakers finally raise the franchise’s 17th championship banner to the rafters. The Lakers had waited until pandemic restrictions eased enough to allow some fans in the stands for the moment and James, still feeling the effects of a high ankle sprain suffered in March, was on hand to address the crowd.

“We could not send this banner to the rafters without you guys,” he told fans. “This is absolutely for you guys. On the road to back-to-back (titles), starts in about a week.”

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