Shaq's dunks keep Mavericks at bay


DALLAS (AP) -- No matter how good they play against everybody
else, the Dallas Mavericks just can't seem to beat the Los Angeles Lakers.

Shaquille O'Neal scored 31 points, including two dunks that
ended Dallas rallies, as the Lakers beat the Midwest
Division-leading Mavericks 101-94 for their 40th win in 43

"To get to the point where they are actually contenders, they
have to understand the focus you have to have," said Kobe Bryant,
who had 24 points and 10 rebounds. "We had that. We were solid. We
didn't budge."

With O'Neal off the floor, Dallas used an 11-0 run capped by
Wang Zhizhi's two free throws to tie the game 76-all with 9:45

O'Neal returned during that stop in play, and less than 20
seconds later produced a one-handed slam over 7-foot-6 Shawn
Bradley. The Lakers led the rest of the way.

"We know we have to be on our toes every time because they're a
good team," said O'Neal. "It isn't about them, it's all about us.
If we do what we are supposed to do, we can't lose to them."

In a game many considered a benchmark for the up-and-coming
Mavericks (33-14), they shot a season-low 37.6 percent (32-of-85).
All-Stars Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash were a combined 11-of-33.
Dallas has won 21 of its previous 25 games.

"We belong with the best in the West. We've showed that already
this year," said Nowitzki, whose only second-half field goal was a
3-pointer in the final minute. "We just can't beat the Lakers.
That's all it is."

Dallas is just 1-17 against Los Angeles under fifth-year coach
Don Nelson. That lone victory was at the end of 1999-2000 when the
Mavericks won nine of their last 10 games to set the tone for last
season's 53-win season that included four more losses to the

Reserve Derek Fisher added 19 points for the Lakers, who ended
their five-game road trip with four straight games after a 2-4

Dallas had a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter to get
within 64-62 on Steve Nash's short floater. But O'Neal stopped that
spurt with a hard slam.

O'Neal went 7-of-9 on free throws, including one to convert a
three-point play before Fisher's 3-pointer that stretched the
Lakers' lead to 76-65.

But the Mavericks closed the third quarter with seven straight
points in the last 57 seconds to start their 11-0 run. Bradley went
to the line twice, hitting four free throws, and Tim Hardaway made
a 3-pointer.

"The bottom fell out. It was a comedy of errors ... missed
rebounds, the ball going out of bounds, the ball on the line" said
Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "It turned this game into a
fourth-quarter stand."

Nash led the Mavericks with 20 points on just 5-of-16 shooting.
Nowitzki had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and Juwan Howard also had
19 points.

"You can't walk out of here with you head down," Howard said.
"This game is something we can build off of, but we know if we
want to win a championship or advance to the finals, we have to go
through the Lakers first."

O'Neal, who scored 46 against the Mavericks in a 98-94 win on
Dec. 5, was called for a flagrant foul in the second quarter when
he banged Nowitzki hard to the floor while going for a block.

Nowitzki hit both free throws to tie the game at 38, and Nash
drove for a layup after the Mavs kept possession. Their lead lasted
only a few seconds with O'Neal scoring a layup at the other end and
then making the free throw.

The Lakers led 57-52 at halftime.

Nash hit a 3-pointer to start the scoring, and the Mavericks
didn't trail until Bryant's hanging 17-foot jumper made it 26-25
late in the first quarter.

Game notes
The next meetings in the series will be back to back games,
March 17 at Los Angeles and two days later in Dallas. ... O'Neal
plans on Monday to have a doctor's examination of his feet. He has
been bothered by a sore big right toe and soreness in his left foot
as well. ... The Mavericks, whose 15 road wins lead the NBA, play
their next six games away from Dallas. They return Feb. 19 to play
Minnesota, the team right behind them in the Midwest Division, for
the first of five straight home games. ... Dallas has hit a
3-pointer in 249 straight games, trying Toronto for the longest
active streak. ... The crowd of 20,179 was the second largest in
Mavericks' franchise history.