LOS ANGELES (AP) -- After Shaquille O'Neal scored a season-high
46 points to lead Los Angeles to its 16th win in 17 games, the
Lakers' big center expressed his gratitude.
Shaquille O'Neal helped flatten Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks.
"Just keep talking and just keep making me a better player. Thank you, Mark Cuban, I appreciate it. You motivated me," O'Neal said Wednesday night after powering the Lakers to a 98-94 victory over Cuban's Dallas Mavericks.
Earlier this season, the Mavericks' owner suggested that referees should watch O'Neal closely when he shoots free throws because, Cuban claimed, O'Neal steps over the line too soon.
O'Neal spent a lot of time at the line in the win over Dallas,
going 10-of-22 and not stepping over the line once. He did get two
retries of missed free throws -- and made them both -- after Mavericks players were called for jumping into the lane too early.
The Lakers got four free throws by Rick Fox -- who was 1-for-8 from the floor -- in the final 20 seconds as they pulled away from a
Although it was a narrow win, O'Neal seemed to particularly relish beating Cuban's team.
"When certain people talk, it's like a challenge to me. I've been in this league for 10 years and I've stepped up to every challenge," O'Neal said. "So it's kind of stupid to me when you'd want to say something directly toward me and act like I'm not going to respond.
"My teammates were looking for me. I told them to bring it to me tonight, no matter what type of defense they threw at me. And they did. I've been waiting for this game."
The two-time defending NBA champion Lakers, 39-2 dating to the final eight games of the last regular season and the playoffs, trailed much of the game against the Mavericks.
Fox gave Los Angeles a 94-92 lead with his two free throws with
20 seconds remaining, then made it 96-92 with another pair, with
nine seconds left. After Adrian Griffin scored on a layup for
Dallas -- the Mavericks' only basket in the final 6:49 -- Kobe Bryant
took a long pass and made a reverse slam to punctuate the victory.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 33 and had 14 rebounds for Dallas, which
has not won on the Lakers' court since 1990, a span of 22 games.
Steve Nash had 13 points and 13 assists.
"We needed to make a shot or two down the stretch and we didn't do it," Dallas coach Don Nelson said. "But we did a good job, I thought.
"That's the idea, to be close enough to win down the stretch and we did that. We didn't win, but we were right there where we wanted to be."
O'Neal had 15 rebounds and was 18-of-23 from the field. Bryant, who had flu-like symptoms, added 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Griffin had 10 of his 23 points in the third quarter and the
Mavericks led 79-75 heading into the fourth. Bryant, who had just
five points in the first half, scored 10 in the third quarter to
keep the Lakers close.
Griffin's driving layup in the opening minute of the third
quarter gave the Mavericks a 57-48 edge, the biggest lead of the
game for either team. Los Angeles then came back with a quick 11-2
run to even it at 59 and the game was close the rest of the way.
The Mavericks (12-7), who led 26-25 at the end of the first quarter, had been 8-0 this season when they led at the end of the opening period.
Game notes Lakers coach Phil Jackson, asked about Cuban before the
game, said, "I wouldn't work for somebody like Cuban. The owners
are important with me, as far as being the coach. I think you've
got to have complete, kind of hands-off approach with owners.
That's the thing I think is really important -- that you don't feel
like people are either too close to the team, or looking down your back." ... Los Angeles reserve F Devean George left the game early
in the fourth quarter with a bruised back. ... Dallas trails 75-17
all-time in the series and is 40-7 in Los Angeles. ... The New York
Knicks had the best record before losing for the second time in a
season, starting 23-1. Eight other teams -- including this year's
Lakers -- won 16 of their first 17 games.