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Mavericks-Lakers Preview

AP - Sports

With Dirk Nowitzki showcasing a sense of urgency, the Dallas Mavericks pulled out a key victory to move ahead in the three-team race for a Western Conference playoff spot.

Now Nowitzki and the Mavericks should be feeling confident about staying there.

Dallas begins a three-game road stretch against a few of the worst teams in the West on Friday night when it goes for the first season-series sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in franchise history.

Following an uninspiring 4-4 homestand, the Mavericks (45-31) got their four-game trip off to a strong start Thursday with a 113-107 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Dallas led by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter before having to hold on late to beat the Pacific Division leaders for the first time this season.

"It was a big win for us against a very good team, a team we hadn't beaten yet this year and a team that hasn't lost much on their home floor," Nowitzki said. "We're going to keep fighting. There's six games left and there's plenty of challenges for us down the road."

Nowitzki led the way with 26 points and 11 rebounds while hitting 4 of 7 from 3-point range to help Dallas sink 14 3s for the second straight contest. The All-Star has averaged 26.2 points and 9.6 rebounds while making 13 of 29 from long range in his last five games.

Dallas has gained a half-game advantage over Memphis and Phoenix in the race for the West's final two playoff berths. The Mavericks haven't missed the postseason in consecutive seasons since 1998-99 and 1999-2000.

They should feel good about continuing their push at Sacramento on Sunday and West-worst Utah on Tuesday after staying at Staples Center to take on the Lakers (25-50), who sit in last place in the Pacific. Dallas has gone a combined 7-1 against those clubs - the three worst in the conference.

Dallas is in position to sweep the season series from the Lakers for the first time in its 33-year history after winning each of the first two meetings by at least 19 points.

Monta Ellis scored 30 in a 123-104 victory over visiting Los Angeles on Nov. 5 before Nowitzki had 27 points in a 110-97 home win Jan. 7.

The Mavericks shot a combined 52.7 percent from the field in the two victories. They're also scoring at a high rate heading into this meeting, averaging 114.4 points in their last eight games.

They may be able to continue that production against an injury-ravaged Los Angeles team that has given up 118.3 points per game in its last four and 108.9 overall - among the worst marks in the NBA.

The Lakers played again without Steve Nash (ankle), Chris Kaman (calf), Xavier Henry (multiple injuries) and Pau Gasol on Wednesday in a 107-102 loss at Sacramento. After missing four games, Gasol suffered another bout with vertigo after he had returned to score nine points in a 124-112 home loss to Portland.

"We've had a tough trip," coach Mike D'Antonio said. "But there were a lot of opportunities for a lot of our guys."

Jodie Meeks had 21 points and Jordan Hill scored 18 with 15 rebounds in place of Gasol on Thursday. Coming off a season-high 40-point performance against the Trail Blazers, Nick Young chipped in 17.

Young also finished with 21 points in the November loss at Dallas, while Meeks and Kendall Marshall scored a combined 42 with seven 3-pointers in the January meeting.

After losing four of five, Los Angeles has dropped 50 games for the first time since 1974-75 and is on pace for its worst record since moving west from Minneapolis in 1960.

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