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 turnovers.
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 Jackson said.
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 55 points.
“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.