Kuzma's late basket gives Lakers 3rd straight win

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Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma, left, shoots and scores as Houston Rockets forward Kenyon Martin Jr., right, defends in the closing seconds of the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES – Despite missing LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers are keeping alive their slim hopes of trying to avoid the play-in tournament.

Kyle Kuzma's driving layup with 6.9 seconds remaining gave the short-handed Lakers a 124-122 victory over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

The defending NBA champions have won three straight for the first time since the middle of March, but remain in seventh place in the Western Conference.

“It is time to tighten up the screws and get back on track,” said Kuzma, who finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. “We need to continue to play the right way and with each other, which will bode well when we are at full strength.”

James (sprained ankle) and Davis (groin) were not in the lineup, but spoke to fans before the game when the Lakers unveiled the banner for their 17th NBA championship before the game. They held off from doing it until fans were finally allowed to attend games at Staples Center.

While James and Davis reiterated the desire to win back-to-back championships, the Lakers (40-30) could face a long road. They are one game behind Portland and Dallas in the battle for a top six spot, which would allow them to avoid being in next week’s play-in tournament. However, the Trail Blazers and Mavericks won the season series over the Lakers and hold the tiebreakers.

Los Angeles' best hope is to win out and hope either Dallas or Portland drop their final two games.

However, the Lakers' slim hopes almost flickered away against Houston.