LOS ANGELES -- On the night the Los Angeles Lakers retired former great Shaquille O'Neal's jersey, they desperately tried tapping into the magic O'Neal and Kobe Bryant created more than a decade ago together against the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday.
Nothing short of their season was riding on their ability to find it, as the Lakers came into the game on the outside looking in on the playoffs chase a half-game behind the eighth-seed 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 in a 101-81 victory that, for the moment anyway, draws them even with the Jazz.
But 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 as four of the seven Lakers who played reached double figures in scoring, Bryant notching 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists and Dwight Howard anchoring the middle with 24 points and 12 rebounds.
Bryant, also had four steals and two blocks while playing 47 minutes in one of his better all-around games of the season.
For Dallas, the loss was a devastating blow to its playoff hopes. The Mavericks are now 2.5 games behind the Jazz and Lakers with eight games remaining, including Wednesday's road game against the Denver Nuggets.
Dirk Nowitzki struggled to reach 11 points on 4 of 13 shooting while Chris Kaman had 14 points and six rebounds.
But with Bryant making like Magic Johnson with a triple-double and O'Neal and former Lakers playing and coaching legends like Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, James Worthy and Phil Jackson on hand to celebrate O'Neal's big evening, it was a Lakers night from beginning to end.
NOTES: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was in rare form before the game, perhaps inspired on the night former Lakers and Mavs nemesis Shaquille O'Neal was getting his number retired. Cuban went down memory lane during a chat with reporters, and as usual found time to playfully tweak the Purple and Gold. Of former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who is engaged to Lakers president Jeanie Buss, Jackson said: P"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 was the best player on the board when the Mavericks selection comes up. ... Injured Lakers guard Stave Nash said he is optimistic he'll return Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies. Nash has missed the last two games with a hamstring, and has also been hampered with a hip spasm. Steve Blake has started in place of Nash.