Kobe's return and 33 points not enough for L.A.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Dallas Mavericks have been focusing on
defense, and playing at their best since Avery Johnson succeeded
Don Nelson as coach last month.

Johnson had been satisfied until the fourth quarter of Sunday's
114-112 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I don't like where we are after this fourth quarter. We can't
have this kind of fourth quarter in the playoffs," Johnson said
after the Mavericks won despite being outscored 42-29 in the final
period including 25-12 in the last five minutes.

"If you talk to me before the fourth quarter, I would have said
we're doing OK," Johnson said. "But after this fourth quarter,
our press offense wasn't very good, we missed free throws, we
didn't execute. So we've got some stuff to work on."

Dirk Nowitzki had 24 points and eight rebounds and five
teammates scored in double figures as the Mavericks extended their
winning streak to seven and raised their record to 14-2 since
Johnson was promoted to head coach when Nelson retired.

Michael Finley scored 20 points and Jason Terry added 17 points
and 10 assists for Dallas (56-24), which has two games remaining
before entering the playoffs with the third-best record in the
Western Conference.

"I won't make any predictions, but I think we're better
prepared [entering the playoffs] than we've been since I've been
here," said owner Mark Cuban, who purchased the Mavericks in
January 2000.

Jerry Stackhouse scored 15 points and Josh Howard and Erick
Dampier added 13 each for the Mavericks, who shot 49.4 percent.

"No one person feels like they have to carry the load,"
Stackhouse said. "We see all the talent here, and when we share
the ball and help each other defensively, we are really good. We
have just as good a chance as anyone to win it all."

The Lakers (34-46) have two games left in one of their most
dismal seasons. They have lost four straight, 17 of 19 and will
miss the playoffs for the first time since 1994 and just the fifth
time in franchise history.

"I thought the crowd was great. I wish we could have won the
final here at home for them," Lakers coach Frank Hamblen said of
the 18,237 fans at Staples Center.

The Lakers finished with a 22-19 record at home -- their worst in
11 years.

Kobe Bryant scored 12 of his 33 points in the last four minutes,
and also had seven rebounds and nine assists to lead the Lakers. He
returned to action after missing Friday night's 115-106 loss to
Sacramento to be with his wife, who was diagnosed with an ectopic

"She's doing much better. Her spirits are good," Bryant said,
adding his wife, Vanessa, was recuperating at the family home.

Jumaine Jones added 14 points and nine rebounds, Chris Mihm had
13 points, and Luke Walton scored 12 for the Lakers, who have a
7-40 record when allowing the opposition to score 100 or more

Stackhouse made two free throws with 19.3 seconds left to give
the Mavericks a nine-point lead, but 3-pointers by Sasha Vujacic
and Devean George made it 113-110 with 3.6 seconds remaining.

Stackhouse made another free throw before Bryant was fouled
while attempting a 3-pointer with one second to play. He made the
first two free throws and intentionally missed the third, but the
ball was knocked out of bounds by the Lakers, and Dallas ran out
the clock.

Stackhouse scored seven points and Nowitzki, back in action
after missing a game with a sore shoulder, added six during a 17-4
run to finish the third quarter, giving the Mavericks an 85-70
lead. It was 102-87 with five minutes to play.

Bryant scored four quick points to cut Dallas' lead to 108-102
with 1:07 remaining, and missed a 3-pointer with about 40 seconds
left that could have drawn the Lakers within three.

Game notes
The loss was the Lakers' fifth straight at home, one shy of
the franchise record set in the 1992-93 season. ... The Lakers have
a 45-9 all-time home record against the Mavericks, who have won two
of the last three games between the teams in Los Angeles after
losing 26 straight. ... The Lakers beat Dallas 108-103 at Staples
Center on March 4 and 100-95 at Dallas six days later. But they've
gone 3-17 since that time. ... Lakers C Vlade Divac floored
Mavericks C Shawn Bradley with an elbow to the jaw early in the
fourth quarter. No foul was called. ... Bryant picked up a
technical foul late in the third period after protesting a
non-call. He also made a 3-pointer left-handed from the left corner
as the shot clock was expiring with 4 minutes to play.