NBA: LA Lakers vs. Houston Rockets; Jeremy Lin, Harden take on Dwight Howard Before Playoffs; TV Schedule, Match-ups, Live Stream and Score

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First Posted: Apr 17, 2013 09:35 AM EDT

(Photo : Reuters) Jeremy Lin, far left, and James Harden, second from right, hope to lead the playoff-bound Houston Rockets to victory in the last game of the regular season, a must win for Dwight Howard, far right, and the L.A. Lakers on Wednesday.

Two of the most exciting teams in the NBA meet one last time this season in a match-up with huge playoff implications as James Harden, Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets (45-36) take on Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and the L.A. Lakers (44-37) Wednesday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

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In the final regular season game of the 2012-12 NBA season, the Rockets have already stamped their ticket to the playoffs, sitting with the No.7 seed in the playoffs while chasing the Golden State Warriors for the No.6 seed as the Rockets have won six of their last 10 games behind the renascent play of Jeremy Lin and the hot scoring of James Harden. A win Wednesday with a Golden State loss the same night would move the Rockets to the No.6 spot and a date with the Denver Nuggets--a more favorable matchup for Houston--in the first round of the playoffs.

But while the Rockets are playing for position, the Lakers, who have struggled with injuries and setbacks in a disappointing season, are fighting for their playoff lives. Currently, they hold the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference by a game over the Utah Jazz (43-38). A Jazz loss to Memphis on Wednesday would clinch the No.8 seed for the Lakers, and a win would bump Houston down to the eight seed while the Lakers move into the seventh seed. But if Utah pulls it out, that makes this game a must-win for the Lakers; a loss and a Jazz win would end their season.

And to make things harder for the Lakers, they'll have to do things without their best player, All-Star Kobe Bryant, who tore his left Achilles tendon on Friday and underwent season-ending surgery that leaves the Lakers without the No.3 scorer in the NBA to compete with the Rockets' No.1-ranked NBA offense (106.1 points scored per game.) The Rockets have beaten the Lakers 2 out of 3 times this season.

It's truly a playoff-level situation that will test the grit and wills of both these teams as both eye the playoffs on Saturday. Who will pull out this critical win? Latinos Post breaks down the match-ups for Wednesday's big game:

Power Forward: Greg Smith, Rockets vs. Pau Gasol, Lakers

Gasol is coming off a terrible 3-for-17 night Sunday against the Spurs, but the four-time All-Star should still be all systems go when he plays in this critical game. And since Gasol had three straight 20-plus point games for the Lakers prior to Sunday, we know he can still score in bunches when L.A. needs it. Smith has been steady with minutes and athleticism since being promoted to the starting lineup. But he'll need to hustle on defense to take gasol out of the equation.

Advantage: Lakers

Small forward: Chandler Parsons, Rockets vs. Metta World Peace, Lakers

After sitting out three games with a calf injury, Parsons is back to his old self, it seems, scoring 18.5 points in two games, including his 24-point night against Phoenix on Sunday. World Peace, working with a surgically repaired left knee, will need to put up hustle on defense to slow down the younger Parsons, who could make the Lakers' night miserable if he gets off to a hot start.

Advantage: Rockets

Center: Omer Asik, Rockets vs. Dwight Howard, Lakers

Asik's offense has dipped in the last five games, but his rebounding prowess has not, the seven-footer grabbing 12.2 boards in the last five games. But Asik, the No.3 rebounder in the league, will face a staunch test in Howard, the league's leading rebounder, who has been on fire on offense in the last five games, averaging 23.6 points. He's averaged 22.0 points and 12.5 rebounds against Houston this year, and with Kobe out, the offense will run through Howard. Asik will have to be physical with Howard all night in what is sure to be a war in the paint.

Advantage: Lakers

Shooting Guard: James Harden, Rockets vs. Jodie Meeks, Lakers

What would have been a blockbuster match-up with Kobe Bryant vs. James Harden got postponed with Bryant's season-ending Achilles injury. Meeks doesn't add much on offense and was ice-cold Sunday in San Antonio with a 3-for-11 shooting night. He may not have enough to go up against Harden, one of the deadliest scorers in the game this season. Already scoring 24.4 points in the last five games, Harden has netted 22.0 points against the Lakers in three games this season. If Harden goes off with a big scoring night, Houston could potentially end the Lakers' season on their own home court.

Advantage: Rockets

Point Guard: Jeremy Lin, Rockets vs. Steve Blake, Lakers

Steve Nash, the other half of LA's superstar backcourt, was out on Sunday with a strained hamstring. If he remains out, it will be up to Blake to step up and hold the line. He'll need a big game like he had on Sunday, when he scored 23 points to lift the Lakers to a 91-86 win over the Spurs and to challenge the red-hot Lin, who has been on fire in April. Lin enters Wednesday with his best month ever as a Rocket, having racked up 18.0 points and 6.8 assists. If Lin is aggressive and continues to push on offense, combined with Harden's likely scoring output, the Rockets' backcourt could be the difference in this game.

Advantage: Rockets

Bench

Injuries have depleted the Lakers' reserves, forcing Meeks and Blake to come from the bench, leaving Antawn Jamison, who scored 15 off the bench on Sunday, while Earl Clark and Darius Morris will have to have big quality minutes from the bench for LA.

The Rockets, in contrast, have all of their major reserve weapons at the ready. Sharpshooter and sparkplug Carlos Delfino scored 23 points on Monday, including a 6-for-9 three-point shooting night. Terrance Jones adds in valuable offense and a strong body from the bench while Patrick Beverley adds a reliable backup at point guard.

Advantage: Rockets

 

TV Schedule

Game time begins at 10:30 p.m. EST/ 9:30 p.m. CST/ 7:30 p.m. PST on ESPN nationwide, on CSN Houston and Time Warner Cable SportsNet in Los Angeles.

Live Stream and Score

Live Stream action of the game can be seen on WatchESPN via this link. Live Score of the game is available via the NBA's official website, NBA.com.

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