LOS ANGELES -- If the Dallas Mavericks still plan on being one of the 16 participants in this year's playoffs, it appears as though they're going to have to do it the hard way.
Looking to inch closer to the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers in the race for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot, the Mavs dropped a 101-81 decision to the Lakers before a Tuesday night sellout crowd at the Staples Center on a night the Lakers retired Shaquille O'Neal's No. 34 jersey.
The loss, in the opener of a four-game road trip, dropped the Mavs to 36-38 with just eight games remaining in the season. It also left them two-and-a-half games behind the Lakers and the Utah Jazz (both at 39-36) for the No. 8 playoff spot out West. The Jazz won the season series against the Lakers to hold the tiebreaker.
In addition, the Mavs lost the season series to the Lakers, 3-1.
The Mavs will next play at Denver on Thursday before finishing this road trip with games Friday in Sacramento and Sunday in Portland.
Kobe Bryant finished with a triple double (23 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) for the Lakers, Dwight Howard had 24 points and 12 rebounds, Earl Clark tallied 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Pau Gasol had 14 points and 10 boards.
Chris Kaman led the Mavs with 14 points, OJ Mayo tallied 12, and Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Darren Collison each popped in 11 points for the Mavs. But Nowitzki and Carter converted just 4-of-13 field goals apiece.
On Tuesday, the Mavs went down swinging as they sliced a 16-point deficit down to 63-58 when OJ Mayo capped an 11-0 run with a three-point basket with 3:05 remaining in the third quarter. But the Lakers -- behindl Clark -- tallied seven points in 41 quick seconds to pad their lead to 70-58.
Clark scored after grabbing an offensive rebound, and was fouled by Elton Brand. Clark missed the free throw, but Pau Gasol snatched the offensive rebound and that led to a three-point basket by Clark.
After Brand misfired on a 15-footer, Clark fed Antwan Jamison for a layup and a 70-58 lead for the Lakers with 2:24 to go in the third period.
The Lakers initially started separating themselves from the Mavs in the second quarter. Bryant and Howard each scored seven points in the first period as the Lakers led 24-21 after the first 12 minutes.
Now long afterwards, the Lakers went on a 13-2 run to assume a 48-33 lead. Shortly thereafter, Howard completed a three-point play and Bryant tossed in a jumper from the right corner and the Laker lead blossomed to 53-37 with 1:02 remaining in the first half.
The Lakers went on to lead at intermission, 55-40, behind 15 points from Bryant, 13 from Howard and 12 from Clark.
This was the 12th loss of the season by the Mavs by 20 points or more.
-- Dwain Price
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