The Mavericks look for a measure of revenge as they play host to Los Angeles at American Airlines Arena.
Despite having the best record in the NBA, Dallas hasn’t convinced many critics that it is the team to beat. The Mavericks have struggled against the elite team’s in their conference, losing six of nine against the Lakers, Kings and Spurs.
The biggest blow to Dallas’ credibility may have come back in December when the Mavericks blew a 27-point fourth quarter lead in a 105-103 loss to the Lakers at Staples Center on Dec. 6.
“We choked, just flat-out choked,” said Dallas guard Nick Van Exel, after his team was outscored 44-15 in the fourth quarter.
The Mavericks cannot afford to choke away any games now, as they only have a two-game lead over the San Antonio Spurs in the Midwest Division.
Those teams will meet in San Antonio on April 16 in Dallas’ final game of the regular season. San Antonio holds a 2-1 lead in the season series and currently has league’s longest current winning streak—six games.
“I’d rather be up five or six games, but we’re not,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “We have to let it all out there and put the pedal to the metal for the last eight games.”
A win over the Lakers would give the Mavericks a good confidence boost as they make their final playoff push.
Nowitzki had 30 points and 11 rebounds and Steve Nash added 17 points as Dallas moved within a game of matching the most wins in franchise history with a 95-86 victory over the Hornets on Tuesday.
Mavericks swingman Michael Finley, the team’s second leading scorer at 19.7, missed his seventh straight game due to a strained left hamstring. Finley is listed as day-to-day for Thursday’s game.
The Lakers have won four of five to firmly take control of the seventh spot in the Western Conference playoff race. If the season were to end today Los Angeles would meet Sacramento in the first round.
The Lakers are a game behind Utah for the sixth spot and 2 1/2 games behind Minnesota for the fifth spot.
“We want to move up in the standings. (But) it doesn’t matter to us,” Shaquille O’Neal said after leading the three-time defending NBA champions to a 110-94 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.
O’Neal had 34 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots to lead Los Angeles.
Kobe Bryant had 29 points, five rebounds, eight assists and six steals to equal a career high as the Lakers bounced back from an ugly 119-98 loss at Seattle a night earlier.
STANDINGS (through April 1): Lakers - 3rd place, 9 1/2 GB, Pacific Division. Mavericks - 1st (tied) place, Midwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Lakers - Bryant, 30.2 ppg and 5.9 apg; O’Neal, 10.8 rpg. Mavericks - Nowitzki, 24.6 ppg and 9.8 rpg; Nash, 7.2 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Tied, 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 6; Lakers, 105-103. At Los Angeles, the Lakers pulled off the second-biggest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA history to stun the Mavericks. Los Angeles rallied from a 27-point deficit at the start of the final period led by Bryant, who scored 21 of his 27 in the final 12 minutes.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lakers - 16-21 on the road; Mavericks - 30-7 at home.
INJURIES: Lakers - F Tracy Murray (ankle). Mavericks - G Michael Finley (hamstring); F Popeye Jones (ankle); G-F Antoine Rigaudeau (back); F Walt Williams (hamstring).