Reporting from Dallas — The Lakers teetered and tottered in the final few minutes, looking as stiff as Kobe Bryant's back, until they finally loosened up for their most important victory this season.
They won without Pau Gasol and with an ailing Bryant, beating the Dallas Mavericks, 100-95, to end a peculiar four-game road losing streak thanks to an energized Lamar Odom and an aggressive Ron Artest, not to mention a startlingly efficient Andrew Bynum, referred to as "the rock" by no less an authority than Coach Phil Jackson.
FOR THE RECORD:
Lakers game: In some editions of Thursday's Sports section, the score line above the article on the game between the Lakers and Dallas Mavericks read Dallas 100, Lakers 95. The score line should have read Lakers 100, Dallas 95. —
That the Lakers survived a road game against the team with the second-best record in the Western Conference was impressive in itself. That they actually won was an even bigger surprise Wednesday at American Airlines Center.
Bryant had 10 points and sat out the entire second quarter because of back spasms that improved marginally in the second half, just enough for him to bury a 19-footer with 28.9 seconds left, putting the Lakers ahead for good, 97-95.
Odom responded to a challenge after his coach demanded he take "some responsibility" after a lackluster effort in a blowout loss the previous day at San Antonio. Obviously listening, Odom had 18 points, 14 rebounds and four assists, a subpar shooting night (eight for 20) the only irresponsible thing he did, if it could even be called that.
Artest had 16 points and 11 rebounds, going a perfect five for five from the field and driving to the basket with precision instead of the off-balance abandon he demonstrated the previous night in a forgettable effort against the Spurs.
Bryant spoke to Odom and Artest earlier in the day, later providing a synopsis of what he said.
"What the hell are you guys waiting for? You've been sitting around, waiting for me to bail your [butts] out all the time," Bryant said. "Get going. It makes us a better team. Don't worry about me. You've got to be aggressive."
Aggressive they were, as was Bynum, who had 22 points and 11 rebounds, making eight of 11 shots and looking confident enough to draw a rare compliment from Jackson.
"'Drew was kind of like the rock for us out there tonight," Jackson said.
The victory actually started at 5 a.m., when Bryant's personal massage therapist arrived at his hotel door after a red-eye flight from Los Angeles. Bryant hadn't missed a game for health reasons since December 2006 and wasn't about to let his streak end Wednesday.
"He spent all day trying to get himself ready for this game," Jackson said.
He had a nondescript first quarter -- no points, no rebounds, no assists -- and sat out the entire second quarter, sprawled out on his back in front of the bench, his feet propped up on a thick cushion.
"I thought I was done," said Bryant, who went to the locker room at halftime, stretched his back and suddenly felt loose. "That's all I wanted to do, was be able to run."
He looked more limber in the third quarter, scoring eight points, though the game's final few minutes weren't so swell for him after he had a pull-up jumper blocked by Josh Howard and then airballed an 18-footer.
But he atoned with his go-ahead shot -- Jackson joked that he was "playing possum" until the game-winner -- and Dallas self-destructed, Erick Dampier missing two free throws and Howard missing a three-point attempt from the right side with 7.8 seconds to play.
To summarize, again, the Lakers (30-9) beat Dallas (25-13) with Bryant scoring 10 points and without their All-Star forward.
"We're aware of what's going on," Odom said. "Me and Ron were just talking about how we were just going to go, no letting the game come to us. We knew we were going to have to score against this team to win."
Dirk Nowitzki had 30 points and became the 34th NBA player to score 20,000 points, but the Lakers added a touch of history too, becoming the first NBA franchise to reach 3,000 regular-season victories.
It was a worthy effort for a small slice of history, in many ways.