Dirk Nowitzki is averaging 15.4 points a game since returning from an early-season… (Darren Abate / Associated…)
The Lakers (27-29) visit the Dallas Mavericks (25-29) on Sunday morning -- a battle between two teams trying to break into the top eight in the Western Conference standings.
The Mavericks upset the Lakers at Staples Center in the season opener. The Lakers returned the favor in late November, tying the season series at one apiece.
Dirk Nowitzki didn't play in either game, nursing a knee injury. The Mavs will visit Los Angeles in early April to finish the season series.
Dallas is on a three-game winning streak. The Lakers have won two in a row.
O.J. Mayo hasn't quite delivered in either of the matchups against Kobe Bryant, but the Dallas guard is leading his team with 17.6 points a game while shooting 46.2% from the field and 40.9% from three-point range.
Mayo is also a key distributor for the Mavericks, averaging 4.4 assists a game, second only to point guard Darren Collison's 5.5.
Bryant is averaging 26.9 points and 5.6 assists a game for the Lakers. While the All-Star guard is coming off a 40-point game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Bryant has put more of his efforts into playmaking.
One disadvantage for Mayo is he's only 6-4, and while he's strong, he's not especially long.
Nowitzki is still a dangerous player, even if he's not having his best year at 15.4 points a night in 25 games.
Earl Clark dislocated the pinky finger on his shooting hand Friday against the Blazers, but he's not expected to miss time.
The Lakers have looked to Clark as a primary defender. After guarding Kevin Garnett and LaMarcus Aldridge the last two games, Clark will get some time against Nowitzki.
Metta World Peace probably will get time guarding Nowitzki as well.
The Lakers say they're confident they'll make the playoffs, but they'll need to win key games on the road to do so -- starting with the Mavericks on Sunday.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.