With their three-week slump behind them, the Dallas Mavericks are playing well enough that they might finally be able to beat the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
The Mavericks look for a fifth consecutive victory while trying to snap a four-game regular season skid against the struggling Lakers on Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.
Dallas (27-20) had the fourth-best record in the Western Conference before enduring a stretch where it lost nine of 12 while averaging 92.7 points on 42.1 percent shooting. Since then, the defending champions have averaged 106.5 points and shot 49.1 percent during a four-game winning streak that has them sitting fifth in the West.
"Right now, it is about getting wins and moving ourselves up the ladder," veteran guard Vince Carter said.
Dirk Nowitzki had 33 points, 11 rebounds and six assists as the Mavericks shot 53.6 percent and allowed 17 fourth-quarter points in a 112-95 win at Denver on Monday.
"It was one of the smartest played games I've seen in the league all year long,'' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "Very disciplined, aggressive, but not frantic and we moved the ball the way we had to.''
Nowitzki has averaged 28.5 points on 54.8 percent shooting (40 of 73), including 10 of 19 from 3-point range, in the last four games. He's scored 46 points despite making 43.6 percent of his shots versus Los Angeles this season.
With Nowitzki currently shooting the ball well and the Mavericks playing at a high level, they seem to be in good position to finally achieve some regular-season success versus Los Angeles. Though Dallas swept the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs last season, Los Angeles has won the last four regular season meetings, including the last two at the American Airlines Center by matching 96-91 scores.
The Lakers (28-18) have won both meetings this season by a combined eight points.
"We got swept last year, and (it's) on our minds,'' said All-Star Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who has recorded 36 points and 29 rebounds against the Mavericks this season.
Averaging an NBA-leading 28.7 points, Kobe Bryant has totaled 29 on 11-of-37 shooting (29.7 percent) versus Dallas in 2011-12. He's gone 13 of 47 (27.7 percent) from the field while the Lakers have dropped their last two following a five-game winning streak.
After being held to 15 points on 3-of-20 shooting in a 103-99 home loss to Utah on Sunday, Bryant scored 29 in Tuesday's 107-104 defeat at Houston. Bryant also shed the protective mask he had been wearing since Dwyane Wade broke his nose in the All-Star game, and does not expect to wear it again.
"I might donate it, see if anybody's dumb enough to buy that sweaty mask,'' Bryant said.
Los Angeles, which dropped three straight Jan. 19-22, shot 50.6 percent against the Rockets but could not prevent Goran Dragic from hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer with 28 seconds remaining. The Lakers also committed 15 turnovers and were outrebounded 40-31 en route to having their season-high three-game road winning streak end.
Though Los Angeles has won five of eight, it's allowed an average of 102.0 points during that span.
"I'm concerned,'' Bryant said, "but I'm confident we'll get it (the defense) fixed. We've responded to challenges all year, and in a way, it's good to go through something like this.''
The Lakers might catch a break if Dallas starting forward Shawn Marion misses a third straight game with a sore left knee.