*Update – Score of 109-82 has been updated to 110-82 due to a error in Yahoo Sports. We apologize.*
For the first and last time of the 2010-11 regular season, the Dallas Mavericks (53-22) took the floor in STAPLES Center to take on the Los Angeles Lakers (54-20). Currently situated in a heated battle for the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs, the winner of the late-season matchup would gain a considerable advantage as the two teams neared the end of its schedules.
While the two teams are set in a battle for second, the competition extends between the players as well, as the Lakers’ Lamar Odom and the Mavericks’ Jason Terry are arguably headlining a two-man battle for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award.
The matchup began with a battle between all-star bigs, as the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki and the Lakers’ Pau Gasol each reeled off six points in the first six minutes of action.
The scoreboard continued to tip in and out of the Lakers’ favor as the quarter progressed, and neither squad was able to take a lead bigger than two points. Every time the Lakers scored, the Mavericks were right there to answer back. After Terry drained a 13-footer to even things out at 26, his sixth-man counterpart Odom responded with a bucket of his own, and the Lakers took a 28-26 lead after the first 12 minutes of play.
Andrew Bynum extended the Lakers’ lead to four points with an early hook shot, but the game’s theme hardly changed, as the Lakers and Mavericks continued to trade baskets. The Lakers were able to build a 37-32 lead with 7:48 remaining in the half, but two 3-pointers sandwiching a Jose Juan Barea layup keyed a 12-4 run by the Mavericks, who regained the lead, 40-38, with just over six minutes to play in the period.
Facing their first deficit of the period, the Lakers found their stroke and proceeded to outscore the Mavericks 11-3 over the next two-and-a-half minutes, increasing their lead to six, 49-43. Kobe Bryant continued to pour it on for the Lakers, as he drilled a triple, extending the Lakers lead to seven with just over two minutes remaining.
However, the Mavericks ended the first half on a 6-2 run, cutting the Lakers’ advantage to only three points, 54-51. Bryant was off the mark on a 3-pointer to end the period, but he was one of three Lakers to reach double-digits in the first 24 minutes of play, as he finished with 12 points, while Bynum and Gasol recorded 11 and 13 points, respectively.
Nowitzki was hit with a technical foul to open the second half, and that was only the start of the Mavericks’ troubles, as the Lakers began to take control of the game, extending their lead to 10 less than four minutes into the period.
Nowitzki scored seven straight points for Dallas, but the Mavericks’ defense could not contain Bryant and the Lakers, who maintained a steady cushion throughout the period, never letting their lead slip below seven points.
With just over two-and-a-half minutes remaining in the quarter, Bryant hit the bench to get some much-needed rest for the fourth and final period, as he posted nine points in the third frame.
The Lakers outscored Dallas 8-3 to end the period, including a crucial 3-pointer by Odom in the quarters final moments, and the Purple and Gold took their biggest lead of the night – a 12-point, 82-70 advantage – into the last 12 minutes of play.
After capping of the third period with a triple, Odom reeled off back-to-back treys for the Lakers and scored nine straight points to open the period.
With Dallas trailing by 17 and emotions high, tempers began to flare when Terry shoved the Lakers’ Steve Blake to the ground, causing Blake to immediately get in Terry’s face. A near fight-broke out in front of the Mavericks’ bench and Matt Barnes jumped in, and was involved in multiple pushing battles. After the refs and player-peace makers were able to settle things down, it was announced that Barnes, Blake, Terry and the Mavericks’ Brendan Haywood were all ejected.
Despite the ejections and a considerable deficit, the Mavericks outscored the Lakers 10-1 midway through the fourth quarter, pulling the Mavs within 11. But it did not matter, as Bryant led a Lakers’ scoring effort, that saw LA extend their lead back to 17.
Tempers continued to rise as Shannon Brown was ejected with less than two minutes remaining, after he shoved the Mavericks’ Brian Cardinal for dolling out a hard foul on Pau Gasol.
The Lakers continued to run up the score, extending their lead to as much as 28 points, and they coasted to their eighth straight victory, 110-82. It is the third time this season that the Lakers have reeled off a string of eight consecutive wins.
Bryant led the victorious Lakers with 28 points, while Odom came off the bench to post 16 points and 10 rebounds. Bynum and Gasol led the Lakers’ down low, posting 18 and 20 points, respectively; while Bynum also pulled down 13 rebounds.
Continuing his string off strong offensive performances, Artest finished with 13 points, six assists and four rebounds.
Nowitzki was the only player to stand out for the Mavericks, as he paced Dallas with 27 points and 13 rebounds, but the Mavs dropped their 22nd game of the season, falling two games behind the Lakers for the second seed in the Western Conference.
Michael Goldsholl’s Player of the Game: It has to be Kobe Bryant. When the Mavericks cut it close, Bryant was their as the customary closer that he has always been during his career as a Laker.
The win pulls the Lakers within two games of the West’s top seed, however, they remain 1.5 games away from the third spot in the playoffs as well. They will return to the court again tomorrow night, as they travel to Salt Lake City, Utah to take on the new-look Utah Jazz, who have struggled mightily since trading all-star point guard Deron Williams. They game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. PST and will be broadcasted nationally on ESPN and ESPN3.com.