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Mavs suppress Kobe, Lakers to claim 12th straight win

DALLAS (AP) -- The Dallas Mavericks weren't going to let Kobe
Bryant embarrass them again.

No scoring at will this time for Bryant, or outscoring the
Mavericks on his own.

"They made a concerted effort to run two, three, four guys at
me," Bryant said. "They trapped me all over the court."

Josh Howard had 22 points and was one of the defenders who
helped frustrate Bryant, and Dallas beat the Los Angeles Lakers
102-87 Tuesday night for its NBA-best 12th straight victory.

The winning streak coincides with the Mavericks' club-record
streak of holding a dozen straight opponents under 100 points.

But this time, they showed they could defend Bryant, who was
held to 24 points -- well below his 52.5 average in his other two
games against Dallas this season.

"We wanted to keep the ball out of his hands as much as
possible," Howard said. "Through this whole winning streak, we've
been playing great team defense. The last two times we played the
Lakers, we didn't play great defense and let them take advantage of
it. We got tired of it."

Before Bryant scored 81 points against Toronto two weeks ago, he
had 62 against the Mavs on Dec. 20, and had outscored them on his
own before not playing the fourth quarter in a 22-point home
victory. The NBA's top scorer put up 43 in his other matchup
against Dallas.

On Tuesday, he had his lowest output since 21 against Orlando on
Dec. 23, the game after his 62 against the Mavs when he made
18-of-31 shots.

Using Adrian Griffin, Jerry Stackhouse and Howard as the primary
defenders, and often using double teams, Dallas did everything they
could to deny Bryant the ball. And Bryant struggled when he did get
shots, making only 5-of-22.

"My assignment was to make Kobe work for each shot," Griffin
said. "The team did a great job of having my back, and whoever
guarded him played with a lot of energy. ... Fortunately, he didn't
get going like he usually can."

With so much focus on Bryant, Brian Cook scored a career-high 28
points on 12-of-16 shooting. He became the first player other than
Bryant to lead the Lakers in scoring the past 17 games.

Dallas (38-10) took over the best record in the Western
Conference, a half-game better than idle San Antonio. The Lakers,
playing their sixth straight road game, lost their fourth
consecutive game by double figures.

Still, Dallas squandered a 20-point first-half lead, and the
Lakers went ahead for the only time when Lamar Odom made two free
throws to make it 66-64 with 2:56 left in the third.

Howard tied the game with a drive for a shot off the glass, then
stripped Bryant of the ball. After a foul away from the ball,
Howard drove for another layup and the Mavericks led the rest of
the way.

The consecutive baskets by Howard started a 19-2 run for Dallas,
which turned around the game without a point from Dirk Nowitzki in
that spurt. A 3-pointer by Keith Van Horn made it 83-68 with 9:40
left.

"They embarrassed us in the last meeting, and I thought we took
the challenge," said Nowitzki, who still finished with a team-high
26 points.

Nowitzki made a short hook to put the Mavericks up 40-20 in the
second quarter before the Lakers had an 16-8 run in which Cook made
five straight baskets.

Determined to make an impact after halftime, after getting off
just one shot in the second quarter, Bryant missed two quick shots
and also grabbed two defensive rebounds. And his frustration was
obvious.

Even when a foul was called on DeSagana Diop guarding him,
Bryant got a technical for something he said to the official.
Bryant then made his two free throws, the first of eight points he
scored in a three-minute stretch to get the Lakers within 56-53.

Pressed about the officiating after the game, Bryant was careful
with his words, saying "Easy on my piggy bank."

The frustrated Lakers were called for four technical fouls,
including a delay of game when coach Phil Jackson purposely kept
them in the huddle after a timeout. There were also two flagrant
fouls.

"It was a poorly refereed game," Jackson said.

After Bryant drove for a layup to make it 58-57 with 6:11 left
in the third and being fouled, he missed a tying free throw.

Dallas jumped ahead 9-0, and Bryant missed his first three shots
before a 3-pointer made it 14-6 with 6:09 left in the first
quarter. The Lakers didn't score again until more than 5 minutes
later when Bryant drove for a layup and hit a free throw to make it
24-9.

It was 27-10 at the end of the first, matching Los Angeles'
lowest-scoring quarter this season. It was the lowest by a Dallas
opponent.

Game notes
While Odom was back after missing two games with a strained
rib. Chris Mihm missed his second straight game with a strained
right shoulder. ... The Mavericks have led after the first quarter
in 13 straight home games. ... Seven-time Tour de France winner
Lance Armstrong sat courtside with a group of guys. He split with
rock star Sheryl Crow last week.