DALLAS (AP) -- When Shaquille O'Neal's massive forearm whacked
Dirk Nowitzki's face 15 seconds after tipoff, then Raef LaFrentz
snatched a reverse layup from Kobe Bryant's hands on the next
possession, it was obvious the intensity level of this
Lakers-Mavericks game was high.
Advantage, Los Angeles.
O'Neal and Bryant knew exactly how to respond in this emotional, physical showdown and carried Los Angeles to a 100-89 victory over Dallas on Thursday night.
"When we play like that, we can compete with anyone,'' said O'Neal, who went through a parade of 7-foot defenders for 31 points and 17 rebounds. "We needed this game and wanted this game.''
Bryant went from making three field goals over three quarters to scoring four quick ones early in the fourth. That let the Lakers cruise to their 43rd victory over the Mavericks in 48 meetings since 1991. This also was the first meeting since Los Angeles erased a 27-point fourth-quarter deficit.
"We approached this as a big game and wanted to win. We
accomplished that,'' said Bryant, who had 10 of his 19 points in
the final period. "We're not in playoff shape yet, but we're
getting there and we'll get there.''
Los Angeles, which has won five of six, gained a game on either
Portland, which lost to Utah. The Lakers are chasing the fifth and
sixth playoff seeds; at No. 6 they could wind up facing Dallas in
the first round if the Mavs slip to No. 3.
Dallas' lead over San Antonio is down to one game in the Midwest
Division and the chase for the top seed in the West.
"We did the best we could,'' coach Don Nelson said. "We didn't play a bad game -- hard, solid. We competed and we didn't get the win. What are you going to do? It happens. We got beat by a good team.''
Nowitzki had 25 points and 22 rebounds, one shy of his career
high, and Steve Nash had 26 points. Dallas was missing the third
member of its Big Three as Michael Finley went on the injured list
before the game because of a bad hamstring that's already kept him
out two weeks.
"I thought we played a good game,'' Nowitzki said. "We're not
afraid just because we lost a game.''
The Mavs had a chance to take control, especially in the middle
two quarters when Bryant was struggling and the Lakers got sloppy.
Los Angeles had eight turnovers in the second quarter, mostly on
errant lobs to O'Neal, and opened the third with four straight
But Dallas led only 65-64 with 2:14 left in the third. O'Neal
made two free throws then a dunk to start a 10-0 run that put the
Lakers in control.
The Mavs got within five midway through the fourth, then O'Neal
scored a quick basket out of a timeout and stripped Nowitzki on a
fast break, sending the 7-footer tumbling into cameramen.
He jumped up angry that no foul was called, and Don Nelson
stormed onto the court, drawing two technicals and an ejection.
With the crowd booing, a fan threw a disposable camera onto the
court. O'Neal stood at halfcourt bemused by it all, at one point
shrugging his shoulders and gesturing to Mavericks assistant coach
Sidney Moncrief as if to say, "Why all the fuss?''
Dallas continued squawking, with the usually calm Nash getting a technical foul. Nick Van Exel, who had 19 points, earlier got one for griping about a no-call.
"Tonight, our poise and character showed,'' Lakers coach Phil
O'Neal made 11-of-19 shots and was 9-of-12 on free throws.
Bryant started 1-of-9, with his first basket coming with 7
seconds left in the first quarter. In the third quarter, he took a
layup from 4 feet out -- and missed by 3 feet. Soon after, he missed
two of three free throws.
Then the fourth quarter began and made two jumpers and two
layups, the last set up by a great defensive play. He finished
7-of-21, including 0-for-4 on 3-pointers, three games after scoring
"I didn't worry about my offense,'' Bryant said. "I just kind
of waited and turned things up in the fourth quarter.''
Emmitt Smith spent halftime chatting with Orlando's Tracy
McGrady, in town early for Saturday's game against Dallas. ... A
technical problem on the scoreboard that shows the box score
prevented O'Neal's name and stats from being displayed until late
in the second quarter. ... In their previous visit to Dallas, the
Shaq-less Lakers shot 30.8 percent, worst in franchise history.
They made 43.8 percent this time.