Maybe Phil Jackson should make a new pact with Trevor Ariza, one in which the fifth-year pro will never be removed from the starting lineup.
The Lakers' coach and the productive reserve had struck a season-long deal in which Ariza would only come off the bench, but their agreement was scrapped three games ago when Jackson told him to play with the starters in place of Luke Walton.
The trickle-down effect was felt Sunday in the Lakers' 107-100 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
The rangy forward scored a career-high 26 points and added some imposing defense throughout the game, often against point guard Jason Kidd, sparking the Lakers against a possible first-round playoff opponent.
Afterward, Ariza sported a cut under his left eye, the result of an elbow from Dallas center Erick Dampier that was symbolic of the Lakers' overall effort against Dallas -- beaten up but not beaten.
The Lakers blew a 15-point lead near the midpoint of the third quarter and had to scramble to overturn a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
In fact, Jackson couldn't bear to look at the minutiae of the final box score.
"I saw we won the game, which I guess is the important thing," he said. "I wasn't very proud of the way we played. . . ."
If not for Ariza, Jackson would have been really displeased.
After the Mavericks took a 95-89 lead on the strength of a 29-8 run, a two-minute window became an Ariza highlight show.
He scored on a driving layup and a five-foot floater, then on a dunk after stealing the ball from Kidd for a 98-95 lead with 4:20 to play. The Mavericks never came closer.
"It's important to shoot the ball and put it in, and Trevor had a good night . . . but his defense and ability to change things up are the difference," Jackson said. "That's what he did late in the ballgame that made us have a chance to get the lead back."
Of course, the fact his effort was even needed in the fourth quarter was a source of concern.
The Lakers came back from a noteworthy two-game run through Texas and almost lost at home to the Mavericks.
"I thought we had perhaps a better killer instinct earlier in the year, if you can use that term," Jackson said. "I'm not fond of it, but when we had a team [down] 15, we'd try to extend it to 25 and tried to take the heart out of teams earlier in the year.
"Right now, I think that we've kind of played around with teams at times and allowed them to stay around in games and this is one of them."
If the playoffs started today, the Lakers and Mavericks would meet in the first round. It wouldn't be a bad thing for the Lakers, who improved to 3-0 against the Mavericks (40-27) and swept the season series for the first time since 2000-01.
Pau Gasol had a scintillating day, making 12 of 13 shots on the way to 25 points. Kobe Bryant was definitely on the court too, finishing with 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
But the Lakers (53-13) were stymied by the Mavericks' zone defense and settled for too many three-point attempts in the second half, making only three of 14.
Dallas, on the other hand, fared better from long distance, Jason Terry making seven of 16 from three-point range on the way to 29 points.
But the Lakers had Ariza, who didn't predict future outbursts on offense.
"Especially on a team like this where we have the best scorer in the NBA," he said. "Defense is what I need to do to help this team win, whether I'm guarding a center or a point guard."