DALLAS -- Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki put on an old-fashioned shootout Sunday afternoon at American Airlines Center. At times it was easy to forget that this wasn't a battle of two Western Conference powerhouses, but rather a desperation game for both the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks to get a little closer to playoff contention.
Both teams entered the game chasing eighth-place Houston and in a near-dead heat for ninth place. The Lakers came in with two more wins than Dallas, but with the same number of losses. Bryant scored 38 points, one game after notching 40, including a free throw with 4.5 seconds left to seal the Lakers' 103-99 victory.
Nowitzki had one of his best games of his abbreviated and mostly disappointing season due to arthroscopic knee surgery prior to the start of the season. He set a season-high with 28 points, but managed just four points in the final period and missed a critical free throw on a 1-and-1 that would have pushed Dallas to within one point with 1:04 to go.
Bryant then swished a long jumper and Metta World Peace made 1-of-2 free throws for a 102-99 lead with 16.8 seconds to go. Dallas called a timeout and inbounded in the front court. Nowitzki received the pass, but lost control while being hounded by World Peace. The Mavs maintained possession, but O.J. Mayo missed a contested 3-pointer from the corner.
Nowitzki had a tough fourth quarter, make 2 of 4 shots while picking up a technical foul with 5:48 to go after emphatically waving his arm in disgust after not getting a call on World Peace on a shot attempt.
Steve Nash made the technical free throw to put the Lakers ahead, 90-88.
Dwight Howard, who struggled with early foul trouble and finished with nine points and 13 rebounds, then made 3 of 4 free throws for a 91-90 lead.
Mayo's forgettable game (eight points on 2 of 9 shooting) got worse when he drew a technical foul after getting whistled on a Bryant drive. It turned into a three-point play and put the Lakers up, 94-90.
Then it was the Bryant show again with the superstar launching a couple of tough jumpers and then assisting on a Nash 3-pointer for a 99-95 lead with 1:42 to go.
The Lakers won despite Howard's struggles and never seemingly being able to put distance on the scoreboard each time it seemed they were in control. Los Angeles went up 53-47 with less than three minutes left in the first half, but was then outscored 7-1 to go into halftime tied, 54-54.
Likewise, Dallas couldn't sustain momentum either, scoring the first five points of the third quarter, but then quickly falling behind 67-62 before swinging momentum back in their favor.
Nash finished with 20 points, including four 3-pointers to match Bryant. They combined for 8 of 10 on 3-point attempts. Antawn Jamison scored 13 off the bench and Jodie Meeks had 11.
Nowitzki was the Mavs' lone starter to score in double figures. Vince Carter had 15 and Elton Brand finished with 14 and eight rebounds.
Notes: With a second-quarter 3-pointer, Bryant surpassed 31,000 points for his career. He became the youngest of the five players to reach that milestone (34 years, 185 days), surpassing former Lakers great Wilt Chamberlain. ... Mavs owner Mark Cuban said Vince Carter, shooting 41.4 percent from 3-point range this season, would be a leading candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award if the team had a better record. ... Anthony Morrow was active in his first game since joining Dallas after a deadline trade on Thursday, but did not play. ... Mavs center Chris Kaman saw his first action in 11 games since sustaining a concussion during practice. ... The Lakers have won five consecutive games in Dallas (and eight of nine overall), including a 115-89 victory on Nov. 24.