Lakers-Mavericks game could have big playoff implications

By Mark Medina

Game: Lakers (27-29) vs. Dallas Mavericks (25-29)

Where: American Airlines Center

Time: 10 a.m. PST

DALLAS – At a time when most NBA teams sleepwalk through their schedule, the Lakers and Mavericks square off in a game that could have huge playoff implications

Both are teams are currently trying to scrape back into the postseason picture. The Lakers remain three games behind the Houston Rockets (31-27) for the final playoff spot, while Dallas are closely behind with a four-game deficit.

The Lakers have won two consecutive games, partly because of Dwight Howard’s resurgence. His improved conditioning and effort has led the Lakers center to average 21.5 points on 62.9 percent shooting and 14 rebounds in the past two contests.

“He’s turned it up a notch,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But you can’t put it all on his shoulders. We all have to turn it up a notch.”

That’s because the Lakers are also nursing other injuries.

Lakers guard Steve Nash has back spasms and Lakers forward Earl Clark has a sprained left pinkie, but both plan to play.

Meanwhile, Dallas has won three straight games. Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki may be averaging 15.4 points on only 42.7 percent shooting, his lowest since the 1999-2000 season, but the Lakers will still have to account for him. The Lakers and Mavericks split the regular-season series thus far without Nowitzki in the lineup because of a knee injury.

“Having Nowitzki back and having that threat helps everybody else’s game,” D’Antoni said.

The Lakers in recent seasons struggled in early games. But they’ve gone 2-1 this season, including a Christmas Day win against the New York Knicks and another key win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers lost, however, to the Toronto Raptors, a sub .500 team.

If somebody is letting down, it’s mental. It’s not physical. You sleep well, get up and go to work. Usually you’re more productive in the morning.

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