Updated: April 17, 2013, 8:28 PM ET

1. Lakers Make Playoffs After Season On Brink

By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers, the golden franchise that seemingly has everything, spent most of the season looking like beggars, an appearance they carried right through the end. Not even a rare gift in the form of a Utah Jazz loss that assured the Lakers a spot in the playoffs could alter their countenance. The Lakers went back to wandering the streets until they found enough change to pull off a 99-95 overtime victory over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

The particulars of this one included an 11-point Rockets lead in the third quarter that the Lakers eliminated to procure a late three-point lead that was eliminated by a long-distance Chandler Parsons heave at the fourth-quarter buzzer. So the Lakers had to go out and win the game again.

Lakers Celebrate
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesThere is joy in Lakerland after all.

It's hard to wrap your head around the concept of the Lakers as overachievers and survivors. At first it seemed beneath them to be so elated at securing the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. But in this case it's us, not the erstwhile Showtime Squad, who are more caught up in the hype than the reality. The expected starting lineup of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, with their Most Valuable Player awards and All-Star appearances and Defensive Player of the Year trophies, assembled together only seven times … with nary a victory to show for it. Injuries and disappointment have been the theme of this season, but at the moment it is not the final assessment. The Lakers live on.

"Definitely expected more coming into the year," Steve Blake said. "A lot of people counted us out at one point. But we focused and we gathered ourselves and we got back on track."

The mere fact that Steve Blake is the first person quoted in this story tells you how much things have turned around in Lakerland. But who better to offer his take after the way he has performed the past two games? His 24 points led the Lakers in this one, coming off the 23 he scored against San Antonio on Sunday.

Blake felt licensed to fire jumpers at will. Kobe Bryant always had confidence to pass Blake the ball deep in the shot clock or late in the game if defenders converged on him. Now, with Bryant at home with his left leg in a cast, Blake doesn't have to wait on Kobe's discretion.

The Lakers are rolling with a new approach, one that's a more traditional inside-out, counting on big men Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to initiate most of the offense.

And they're also leading the feel-good brigade in the Lakers' locker room.

"We stepped up to the adversity of the challenge and we believed in ourself all the way," Gasol said.

Gasol had 17 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists for his second triple-double in the past three games (his first was kinda overshadowed by that whole Kobe Bryant season-ending-Achilles-tendon-injury thing.)

When the Memphis Grizzlies took care of the Utah Jazz earlier in the night, it clinched the eighth Western Conference playoff spot for the Lakers and spared them the ignominy of missing the playoffs with a $100 million roster. (It also spared writers from having to look up the spelling of "ignominy" on deadline). The Lakers could have stopped there. They also could have stopped when they were deep in the Western Conference hole before the All-Star break.

"We've been through so much as a team … that could have made us separate from each other," said Howard, who had 16 points and 18 rebounds. "But we stayed strong, we stayed together and we won for each other. We're happy that we're in the playoffs, but we're not done yet."

By grabbing the seventh seed, the Lakers gave themselves the best chance to keep going. The top-seeded Thunder are even better equipped to hurt the Lakers the way the Rockets did most of the night, plus the Thunder play interior defense. The No. 2 seed San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers' first-round opponent, enter the postseason with injury issues of their own, and slid into the playoffs by losing their last six games against Western Conference playoff opponents (including the Lakers on Sunday in their first game after losing Bryant for the rest of the season). The Spurs have been a much better team than the Lakers this season, but the Spurs aren't at their best.

After the Lakers, comically, offered numerous resets over the course of the season, this time it's authentic when Mike D'Antoni said: "We start 0-0."

Can't be sure how much they will add. Nash's availability for the playoffs is uncertain. Nash participated in half-court, one-on-one drills Wednesday and that went well, according to D'Antoni. But it's a long way from half-court one-on-one to the NBA playoffs, and now Nash has only four days to get there.

We keep waiting for the euphoria to wear off, for other teams to make adjustments to the way they are playing now, for the truth of the Lakers' lake of perimeter shot-creaters and diminished depth to catch up with them.

Before the game, Rockets coach Kevin McHale had a telling forecast for the Lakers without Kobe: "When he doesn't play, there's always that kind of rush [for] everybody -- the ball moves a little bit more and stuff, and it all feels good for a while -- but eventually, you can't make up for what Kobe does. It all comes back to reality."

For now, the reality is the Lakers have the seventh seed in the playoffs. Not sure when that seemed less likely, for different reasons: at the start of the season or in the middle. Just know this: They're smiling about it.

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J.A. Adande | email

ESPN Senior Writer

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