Mavs can’t finish rally from 25 down; Kobe, Lakers hold on to win

3-18-08 -- Kobe Bryant took a pass in the lane and spun toward a defender, flicking the ball over his head once his back was toward the basket. The ball hit the glass, caromed off the rim and fell into the net.

Just like that, the Los Angeles Lakers were up by 25 points midway through the third quarter. And the momentum the Dallas Mavericks thought they’d built with five lopsided wins over lousy teams seemed silly.

Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs ended up making things interesting all the way to the final buzzer, but it wasn’t enough to change the outcome. The Lakers won 102-100 Tuesday night, ending a skid of three losses in four games and putting them back into a tie with Houston for the best record in the Western Conference.

“It’s a big win for us,” Bryant said. “We had to stop the bleeding. We got a big lead, but it wasn’t the way we wanted to close out the game. But we got the win.”

Bryant scored only nine of his 29 points in the second half. He also jammed his hip. An injury to an MVP front-runner could be devastating considering this was Los Angeles’ second straight game without Pau Gasol and before the game coach Phil Jackson said emerging center Andrew Bynum probably won’t return until the playoffs.

“I’m good. I’m straight,” Bryant said. “I jammed my hip into the socket. It hurt for a minute and then released. I’m fine.”

With Bryant slowed at the end, Vladimir Radmanovic stepped up, scoring 10 of his season-high 21 points in the final quarter. His spurt included three 3s, all of them while the Mavericks were challenging the biggest comeback in team history.

Dallas made only 12 shots in the first half and scored just 38 points. It was so bad that some fans booed and others chanted MVP for Bryant. Jessica Simpson, sitting in the front row with beau Tony Romo, was in jeopardy of being blamed for another loss by one of her hometown teams.

But the Mavs closed the third quarter on a 14-1 run, then opened the fourth with a 9-2 spurt. They pushed again at the end, with consecutive 3-pointers from Nowitzki making it 98-97 with 41 seconds left. A long 3 by Jason Terry got Dallas within 101-100 with 4.9 seconds to go.

Derek Fisher made one of two fouls shots after that, giving the Mavericks a chance to win it or take their chances in overtime—like when the teams met in Los Angeles two weeks before. Nowitzki nailed a 3 to tie it last time, but this time his shot went wide right. Part of the problem was a low inbounds pass from Josh Howard that cost the big German precious seconds.

“Still, I had a good look,” he said.

Nowitzki had 35 points, 11 rebounds and a season-high five blocks, but the Mavericks’ five-game winning streak was snapped. Dallas fell to 0-6 against teams with winning records since adding Jason Kidd.

Kidd had his worst game since arriving from New Jersey, with one point (0-for-3 shooting, including a missed 3-pointer in the final half-minute), seven assists and three rebounds in only 28 minutes. He was benched from 6:27 of the third to 5:51 of the fourth.

Nowitzki said Los Angeles’ great shooting in the first half kept Kidd from being a factor, which knocked the whole team out of whack.

“It’s hard to get out running when you have to take the ball inbounds every time,” said Nowitzki, whose frustration about the first half was evident when he hurled the ball the length of the court after the buzzer.

Lamar Odom scored 17 points for Los Angeles and Ronny Turiaf had 17 points, 17 rebounds and lots of tenacious play.

Jackson was disappointed that his players let Dallas rally, especially since he warned them exactly what to avoid and they didn’t listen.

“They were pretty thick-headed tonight,” he said.

Terry and Howard scored 19 points for Dallas, which slipped to seventh in the West. With 24 losses, the Mavericks have the same amount as eighth-seeded Golden State, but lead the Warriors by three games in the win column.

The Mavericks can’t let this loss linger as Boston comes to town Thursday night and San Antonio on Sunday, giving them two more chances to try beating a championship contender.

“If we come out and played focused basketball like we’re capable of doing, we can beat anybody,” Jerry Stackhouse said. “If not, we’ll be hanging our heads down like tonight.” ^Notes: Mavs security kept two more bloggers out of the locker room, as per team owner Mark Cuban’s policy. … Bryant shot 27 free throws last time the teams met. He had only six this time—and made only three. … Dallas’ game against the Clippers next Tuesday will be shown live in 3D high definition to an invitation-only audience of 100 fans picked from the team’s Web site. The 2007 All-Star game and Game 2 of last year’s NBA finals are the only previous live sporting events shown in 3D HD.


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