Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
When's the last time the Lakers didn't play a must-win game?
With the media hanging on their every step, it's impossible for coach Mike D'Antoni's team to miss what's at stake over these final weeks. It's not like the Lakers really need any reminding, though, not with Kobe Bryant on the roster.
Their Friday night clash with the Memphis Grizzlies wasn't a must-win due to their opponent. This same Grizzlies team had already handed the Lakers a pair of losses in their first two meetings.
But Utah's win, coupled with the fact that a victory here could bring the momentum L.A. needs after an emotionally grueling season, made this contest one that the Lakers just had to have.
For the third time in as many games, the Lakers (40-36) emerged victorious.
The game didn't lack for drama, as Mike Conley took a contested layup in the closing seconds that would have knotted the score.
But it didn't need to have as much drama as it did either. Bryant missed two jumpers, Steve Blake missed a three and Dwight Howard split a pair of free throws all in the game's final minute.
When it mattered most, though, the Lakers made the play they had to make. Howard cut off a driving Conley and forced him to take a look destined to miss before it even left his hands.
The Grizzlies (51-25) controlled the pace of this game, holding the Lakers to just 86 points. But D'Antoni's team showed a little grit and grind of their own, limiting Memphis to 84.
With the win, L.A. held its half-game lead on the Jazz.
The Lakers have to show this level of intensity over their remaining six games, as Utah holds the tiebreaker.