THE FACTS: The Lakers still face many questions as they try to squeeze into the postseason by the thinnest of margins. Some were answered Sunday night when the Spurs came to town. The biggest being, just how would the Lakers compete without leading scorer Kobe Bryant, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon two days earlier? In a nutshell, they performed remarkably well, blowing out to an 11-point fourth quarter lead and then holding off a Tim Duncan-led charge to win, 91-86, at Staples Center and move 1 ½ games ahead of the Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
QUOTABLE: "These guys are more than capable and we're ready to step up to the challenge."
--Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni
THE STAT: The Lakers shot 36.5 percent from the floor compared to 37.1 for the Spurs, who fell to 13-1 on the season when holding their opponent to under 40 percent and 52-5 when outshooting the opposing team.
TURNING POINT: Duncan's three-point play with 1:24 remaining cut the Lakers' lead to 88-84 and 16 seconds later Cory Joseph was left all alone for a layup to keep it a four-point game. The Spurs had three chances to make it a one-possession game in the final minute, but Gary Neal, Joseph and Danny Green missed 3-pointers and the Lakers were able to hold on for the much-needed win.
HOT: Replacing the 27.3 points Bryant averaged is just one of the hurdles the Lakers are facing. L.A. point guard Steve Blake did his part, however, scoring 23 points, two off his career high. Blake came in averaging 6.5 points this season. He started 7-for-8 from the floor, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range, before finishing 8-for-16 and 4-for-8 from beyond the arc. Lakers center Dwight Howard was a dominant force in the paint, finishing with 26 points, 17 rebounds and three blocked shots. He shot 8-for-17 from the free throw line but made two big ones with 1:37 left to push the lead back to seven. Duncan looked to be in playoff form as well, finishing with 23 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
QUOTABLE II: "Timmy's a pro. He doesn't care what the situation is or what's going on, he's going to play the way he did tonight. He's really the only guy on the team that played like somebody who wanted to win a championship."
--Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
NOT: It was a night to forget for Lakers forward Pau Gasol and Spurs point guard Tony Parker. Gasol missed 12 of his first 13 field-goal attempts before finishing with seven points on 3-for-17 shooting. He made up for some of it on the glass, however, matching his season high with 16 rebounds and three blocked shots. Parker shot 1-for-10 while playing 29 minutes and scoring four points. He put up a similar dud last week against the Thunder, missing five of six field-goal attempts and scoring two points in the 100-88 loss that will probably prevent the Spurs from getting the No. 1 seed in the West.
GOOD MOVE: Popovich will always do what's best for his team, regardless of what others think. That's why he didn't hesitate to intentionally foul Howard with 2:25 left in the third quarter and the Spurs trailing by two. Despite loud boos from the crowd, Popovich went with that strategy five times in the final minutes of the quarter and Howard responded by missing 6 of his 10 from the line. When the quarter ended, the score was tied at 61. D'Antoni then kept Howard on the bench the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter, which was when the Lakers were able to stretch their lead to nine and then 11 on Howard's tip in with four minutes left.
BAD MOVE: In such a big game for the Spurs, they sure didn't begin either half looking very hungry. The Lakers grabbed five of their 16 offensive rebounds in the game's first 1:23 and the Spurs didn't make their first field goal until 3:19 expired. They came out in the second half of a tied game and missed their first six shots, allowing the Lakers to jump out to a six-point lead and further build their confidence.
QUOTABLE III: "We didn't match their energy at all. I just thought we sort of floated through the game."
-- Gregg Popovich
NOTABLE: Duncan passed Charles Barkley for 22nd on the list of all-time NBA scorers. ... The Lakers played their seventh consecutive game without starting point guard Steve Nash, who is sidelined with hip and hamstring injuries. Nash said he hopes to be back for Wednesday's regular-season finale against the visiting Rockets. A loss by the Jazz on Monday in Minnesota will clinch a playoff spot for the Lakers. The Spurs need to win their final two games and have the Thunder lose their last two to get the No. 1 seed in the West.
UP NEXT: For the Lakers, Wednesday vs. Houston. For the Spurs, Monday @ Golden State, Wednesday vs. Minnesota.