In a game that meant more for the Los Angeles Laker and Dallas Mavericks than perhaps any this season, the dramatic finish was apropos.
The game was an up-and-down affair, but Los Angeles (28-29) came away with a 103-99 victory, moving to within 2.5 games of the Houston Rockets and the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Los Angeles won its first two games following the All-Star break and built on that stretch of quality basketball with a win on Sunday. Dallas battled hard, but a 38-point Kobe Bryant performance was too much to overcome.
Bryant posted 14 points in the fourth quarter, coming up clutch once again for a team badly in need of big second-half wins.
The Mavericks got a big performance from Dirk Nowitzki, who tallied 30 points on 4-of-4 shooting from behind the arc. The seven-footer added 13 rebounds and three steals, but Dallas’ four other starters combined for just 21 points in the contest.
With the loss, Dallas falls to 25-30 and 4.5 games out the eighth seed in the West.
Player of the Game: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Bryant has placed the Lakers on his back through every bad stretch this season, and he did it again on Sunday.
With 14 points in the fourth quarter, he helped the Lakers stave off a late Dallas surge, keeping his team ahead of the Mavericks in the Western Conference playoff race.
Bryant finished the game with 38 points on 13-of-21 shooting from the floor. More impressive, he drained 4-of-5 attempts from behind the arc and didn’t back down from the big shots down the stretch.
He nearly posted a triple-double in the contest as well. With 12 rebounds, he trailed only Dwight Howard (13) in the category, and he dished out seven assists to the lead the Lakers, who only tallied 17 in the game.
Up Next for Los Angeles
Getting a three-win head start was crucial for the Lakers following the All-Star break. But they face another tough opponent when they take on the Nuggets on Monday.
Denver (35-22) has been one of the hottest teams in the second half this season, and Los Angeles will look to derail its momentum in an attempt to maneuver into eighth place in the West.
Up Next for Dallas
The Mavericks were 5-1 in their last six heading into Sunday’s contest. They’ll look to rebound from the loss with a big win over the surging Milwaukee Bucks (26-28) on Tuesday.
With just 27 games remaining on the schedule, Dallas has to remain hot to gain ground in the West. Losing a second straight contest at such a crucial point in the season will be devastating for the Mavs, who face Memphis, Brooklyn and Houston (twice) in their next four games.