Nothing has been easy for the Lakers all year long, Howard told his teammates. Why should the finale be any different?
With five more minutes of perseverance, the Lakers ended up with quite a reward. After getting up Wednesday morning with no guarantee their season wouldn't end that night, they surged into the seventh playoff spot in the West with a 99-95 overtime victory over the Houston Rockets.
Steve Blake scored 24 points and Pau Gasol added his seventh career triple-double for the Lakers (45-37), who only clinched a postseason berth about 10 minutes before tipoff. Despite Parsons' improbable tying basket, Los Angeles won again without Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, earning a first-round date with second-seeded San Antonio.
"I'm proud of the whole team and the way they stepped up at the end of the year," said Blake, who added seven assists and seven rebounds to cap his second impressive game in Bryant's absence. "We definitely expected more at the beginning of the year, but we're proud we're here. ... I couldn't believe it when a couple of days ago somebody said we even had a chance to be in the seventh spot, and now we're there."
Gasol had 17 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists in his second triple-double in three games for the Lakers, who avoided the embarrassment of missing the playoffs for just the second time in Bryant's 17-year career.
Howard had 16 points and 18 rebounds for the Lakers, and the All-Star center blocked James Harden's shot in the final seconds of overtime to finish up the Lakers' fifth straight win, their eighth in nine games.
"From where we were 20 or 30 games ago, a seven (seed) is pretty good," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We shouldn't have been in that spot in the first place, but it's our fault."
Antawn Jamison added 16 points as the Lakers won their second straight without Bryant, who tore his Achilles tendon last Friday and watched another game from his home in Orange County. Nash hasn't played in eight games with a hamstring injury, but the Lakers finished the regular season with a gritty comeback win despite Chandler's heroics.
"We've fought through so much adversity already," Gasol said. "We knew we could handle a little more."
Parsons hit a tying 3-pointer from three steps behind the line at the regulation buzzer for the Rockets (45-37), who will face top-seeded Oklahoma City after losing four of six to end the regular season.
Harden scored 30 points and Parsons had 23 for the Rockets, who already knew they were back in the postseason after a three-year absence, but could have ended up in three seedings depending on Wednesday's results. Houston had a shot at the No. 6 spot before Golden State beat Portland earlier, but Los Angeles holds the tiebreaker on the Rockets.
"If we play their pace, their two big guys just control the game after a while," Houston coach Kevin McHale said. "We went through some stretches where we struggled offensively. We were stopping them, but they were just getting second and third shots. That killed us."
Houston led for most of the night before the Lakers went ahead with 6 1/2 minutes to play, but both teams struggled offensively in the final minutes before Parsons ended up alone with the ball near midcourt in the final seconds after a broken-play scramble. His desperate 3-pointer had almost no arch, but dropped in to force overtime.
Neither team made a shot in overtime until Gasol's jumper with 2:26 left, ending a field-goal drought of more than eight minutes for the Lakers. After Jodie Meeks drove the baseline and dunked in the final minute, Howard stepped in front of Harden and blocked the Houston star's drive with 20 seconds left.
Blake and Meeks hit free throws in the final seconds to wrap it up.
"The Lakers did a good job down the stretch, and we didn't do as good of a job," said Jeremy Lin, who had 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting. "We didn't get the looks we wanted to get, and we ended up with a lot of tough shots down the stretch."
The Lakers nursed a small lead over the Jazz (43-39) down the stretch of their tumultuous season, but Utah held the tiebreaker. The Lakers were aware that the Jazz's 86-70 loss in Memphis had clinched Los Angeles' eighth straight postseason berth, but the Lakers still had ample reason to play hard against the Rockets, given their likely preference for facing San Antonio instead of Oklahoma City, which easily ousted the Lakers in last season's second round.
Houston stayed ahead for most of the first 3 1/2 quarters with steady offense from Harden and Parsons, particularly in transition. The Lakers' personnel deficiencies showed in their second game without Bryant, with coach Mike D'Antoni even fielding a backcourt in the first quarter featuring seldom-used Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock, signed from the NBA D-League last weekend.
Houston built its lead up to 11 points in the third quarter, but Los Angeles chipped away steadily in the fourth, going ahead 81-79 on Blake's fourth 3-pointer with 6:36 to play.
NOTES: Howard grabbed his 9,000th career rebound in the first quarter, becoming the youngest player to reach the mark, 14 days faster than Wilt Chamberlain. Howard, who went straight from high school to the NBA, is only the 13th-fastest in terms of games (697). ... Houston has won just one playoff round since 1997. The Lakers haven't been knocked out in the first round of the postseason since 2007. ... Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki of "The Big Bang Theory" attended the game, with Houston native Parsons wearing a Rockets hat.