LOS ANGELES — Lakers fans celebrated Shaquille O’Neal getting his number retired Tuesday night.
They did so by dancing about on the fresh grave of the Mavericks playoff chances. And while they did that, they could celebrate that the Lakers still have playoff life.
From the opening tip the Lakers pounded the Mavericks on the glass — 19 offensive rebounds — and got a triple-double from an active and energetic Kobe Bryant to beat Dallas 101-81. The win ties the Lakers with the Jazz at 39-36 on the season for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West (Utah has the tie breaker winning the season series). That race is on.
Dallas is now 2.5 games back of them with 7 games to play and both Utah and the Lakers have the tiebreaker on Dallas. While it’s not mathematically impossible that is going to be too big a mountain to climb and the Mavs know it. The Mavericks playoff streak ends at 12. You could sense it in a Dallas locker room that felt like a morgue after the game.
“It’s disappointing,” Elton Brand said. “This is one we really thought we were supposed to get, we had a chance. So losing this one really dampens the spirits (in the locker room).”
“We have some inexperienced guys that haven’t been (in an important playoff-like game) so this is a valuable learning experience for them, but it has a price,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.
Carlisle tried to counter the Lakers size by starting Chris Kaman, who played solidly, but the Lakers length still controlled the game. Los Angeles grabbed 39.6 percent of their own missed shots with the offensive board.
But the bigger issue was the Lakers length really bothered Mavericks shooters — particularly Dirk Nowitzki, who had to deal with Pau Gasol much of the night. In his previous three games Nowitzki had shot 63 percent but the Lakers held him to 4-of-15 shooting and often took the ball out of his hands.
“They had long bodies on him, they were physical with him,” Carlisle said. “When we got him touches a lot of times he was forced to pass. Unfortunately, we were unable to hit a lot of the shot where he kicked out.”
Meanwhile Kobe Bryant was dishing and the Lakers were hitting, particularly late in the second quarter when they started to pull away. Kobe had a triple double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
When the Mavs doubled Kobe or Dwight Howard, the other guys made them pay (usually). Earl Clark was back from his slump and had 17 points (and played some good defense on Nowitzki as well). Steve Blake, starting for the injured Steve Nash (who will return Friday) had 11 points.
Kobe played heavy minutes — more than 47 — but never showed it, throwing down some big dunks — the kind he used to have when he played with Shaq — and being more active on defense than we have seen in recent games. It mattered.
“I feel sore right now,” Bryant said after the game, his feet and ankles soaking in ice. “My back is a little sore and my hamstrings are a little sore. I just have to get ready for next week.
“I just have to push through a little bit right now. Hopefully we can get a game and a little breathing room.”
Don’t bet on it. The Jazz have won five in a row and have and easier schedule the rest of the way than the Lakers. Every game is still must win for Los Angeles.
Starting with a tough one Friday night against Memphis. A team that can match that Lakers length that overwhelmed Dallas in the paint.