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Lakers' win over


The Mavericks suffered their 25th straight road loss to the Lakers, absorbing a 108-99 setback that went a long way toward putting the teams into a first-round playoff matchup.

Dallas has not beaten the Lakers here since December 12, 1990. For much of the 1990s, the Mavericks were near the bottom of the NBA. But as they have climbed into the league's upper echelon, they still have been unable to break through.

Even earlier this season, when the Mavericks were way out in front of the rest of the NBA, they blew a 34-point lead in a loss to the Lakers here on December 6.

"There's a lot of teams that haven't done very well in this building," Mavs coach Don Nelson said. "I don't think that we're the only one. What am I supposed to do about it?"

This disappointing loss dropped Dallas (57-20) into a tie with San Antonio atop the Midwest Division. It is sharing first place for the first time since opening night.

"Well, we fought them off all year," Nelson said. "It's been an incredible year for us. To be in first place for that long and have all of these great teams in the West. ... Hopefully we can get it back. We're gonna try like heck."

The division winner likely will get the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, while the second-place team will be seeded third - and likely will face the sixth-seeded Lakers in the first round.

"When the playoffs come, they are going to have the memory of what we've done and the groups we used, the players we have been successful with and what we have attempted to do and are going to make adjustments to that," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Obviously, the key is that we feel we can win on their court. We have had success there and they haven't here."

The three-time defending champions have won five straight games and are 36-12 since an 11-19 start. Los Angeles moved two games ahead of Utah in the Western Conference standings and appears to be peaking for the playoffs.

"It would be better not to wake a sleeping giant," Lakers forward Rick Fox said. "A lot of people have been yapping lately. It's very early to be talking."

This was a convincing win for the Lakers, who exploited double-teams of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant and had six players in double figures. The superstars scored just 14 points each, marking the first time in 125 games one of them did not lead the club in scoring.

Devean George scored 21 points, Robert Horry added a season-high 17 and Fox and Derek Fisher had 16 each for LA, which has won 13 straight home games.

"Everybody played well tonight and to be able to win a game like this in this type of fashion is great," Bryant said. "Our supporting cast played incredible. I'm really, really happy."

"We did a good job of trying to contain Shaq and Kobe throughout the night but all those other guys played big for them," Dallas guard Nick Van Exel said.

With the Lakers leading, 76-75, at the end of the third quarter, Bryant threw in a 70-footer that did not count but fired up the Staples Center crowd. His banker opened the final period, which belonged to George.

The fourth-year forward made three free throws and Horry had a steal and dunk for an 83-77 lead with 11:09 to play. George beat the Mavs to a pair of one-bounce rebounds and put in follow shots to widen the advantage to 91-81 with 8:24 left.

O'Neal answered two 3-pointers by Raef LaFrentz with a couple of dunks to keep the lead at 10 points. George sank a corner jumper and dunked on a fast break to seal it at 103-89 with 3:15 remaining.

"Just the way Dallas plays lets me know I'll have some good opportunities before the game even started," George said. "They focus so much attention on Shaq and Kobe, that's going to free us up for a lot of shots. It felt good."

The Lakers shot 47 percent (39-of-83) from the field, including 10-of-21 3-pointers. They held a 45-37 rebounding edge.

LaFrentz and Dirk Nowitzki scored 26 points each and Steve Nash added 21 and 10 assists for the Mavs, who shot 41 percent (33-of-81), including 13-of-33 from the arc.