Lakers blast Mavs, move into tie for playoff spot

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- On the night the Los Angeles Lakers retired Shaquille O'Neal's jersey, they desperately tried tapping into the magic O'Neal and Kobe Bryant created more than a decade ago.

Nothing short of their season was riding on their ability to find it, as the Lakers came into Tuesday's game against the Dallas Mavericks on the outside looking in on the playoffs, a half-game behind the eighth-place Utah Jazz in the Western Conference standings.

In basically a win-or-else situation, the Lakers found their rhythm even with Bryant still ailing and Steve Nash unavailable. Los Angeles (39-36) earned a 101-81 victory that, for the moment anyway, draws them even with the Jazz.

However, that comes with an asterisk, as the Jazz own the tiebreaker against the Lakers, who need to finish at least one game ahead of Utah for eighth place to earn a spot in the postseason.

And with seven games remaining, that's no sure thing even if the Lakers win out.

That's an issue for another day.

For one night at least, the Lakers struck an offensive and defensive balance that's too often eluded them in this strange, disappointing season. Four of the seven Lakers who played more than one minute reached double figures in scoring. Bryant notched 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists for his 19th career triple-double, and Dwight Howard anchored the middle with 24 points and 12 rebounds.

"I told you guys, he has that vino," Howard said of Bryant. "I'm just happy that we played the right way tonight, especially on the defensive end. That's a big thing."

Bryant also had four steals and two blocks while playing 47 minutes in one of his better all-around games of the season.

He now turns his attention to the final stretch -- and the Lakers are setting their sights on sweeping their remaining schedule.

"Yeah, that's the mentality," Bryant said. "That's what we're going for. We have a tougher schedule, but I wouldn't have it any other way. If you want to get to the playoffs and expect to make some noise, you have to beat playoff teams."

Lakers forward Pau Gasol finished with 14 points, six assists and 10 rebounds, including five of the Lakers' 19 offensive boards.

"There's a sense of urgency," Gasol said. "We understand that there are seven games left. Right now we are out of the playoffs, and we need to win one more than Utah."

Earl Clark added 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers, who host the Memphis Grizzlies in another key game Friday at Staples Center.

For Dallas, the loss was a devastating blow to its playoff hopes. The Mavericks (36-38) are now 2 1/2 games behind the Jazz and Lakers with eight games remaining, including Wednesday's road game against the Denver Nuggets.

"It is a hit," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "It is a game we needed. We have eight more, and we're going to have to get ready for the next one and shake this off."

Dirk Nowitzki struggled to reach 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Chris Kaman added 14 points and six rebounds for Dallas.

"I just thought overall we didn't play well enough," Nowitzki said.

It didn't help he suffered one of his worst shooting nights.

"They had long bodies on (Nowitzki). They were physical," Carlisle said. "When we got him touches, a lot of times he was forced to pass. Unfortunately, we were unable to hit a lot of the shots where he kicked out."

And with Bryant making like Magic Johnson with a triple-double, and with Lakers legends like Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, James Worthy and Phil Jackson on hand to celebrate O'Neal's big evening, it was a night for the home team from beginning to end.

NOTES: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was in rare form before the game. He went down memory lane during a chat with reporters, and as usual found time to playfully tweak the Purple and Gold. Of Jackson, who is engaged to Lakers vice president Jeanie Buss, Jackson said: "I have great respect for Phil, Jeanie's husband, as he'll be now be known," Cuban said. "Someone's got to be the first housewife of the Lakers." On a more serious note, Cuban admitted affinity for both O'Neal and Jackson. "Like Shaq, they're both part of what makes the NBA unique. There's not a lot of personalities that really define themselves, not just by their accomplishments on the court, but by their wit and intelligence off the court." Meanwhile, Cuban also said he would be open to giving Baylor University women's basketball star Brittney Griner an opportunity to show she could play in the NBA, and would even consider drafting her if she were the best player on the board when the Mavericks' selection comes up. ... Nash said he is optimistic he'll return Friday against the Grizzlies. Nash has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, and he's also been hampered by a hip spasm. Steve Blake has started in place of Nash, and he scored 11 points Tuesday.
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