Lakers gut out rare road win in Dallas

DALLAS – The Lakers will never be able to erase the memories of getting swept in the playoffs by the Mavericks last season, but you couldn’t blame them for taking pride in a rugged 96-91 win over the defending champs Wednesday. That they did it with Kobe Bryant having perhaps his worst game of the season, which made it even more impressive as the Lakers (20-13) head to Oklahoma City for their final game before the All-Star break.

Lakers point guard Derek Fisher reminded his teammates before Wednesday’s game of what happened the last time they visited American Airlines Center. And with Mavs defensive stopper Shawn Marion locking down Bryant (along with double-team help), the Lakers put the game in the hands of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who combined for 18 of the Lakers’ first 25 points. Bryant could only muster two free throws in the first quarter, and he seemed to quickly embrace his role as a facilitator.

“What’s that defense going to do?” Bryant said. “They’re going to throw everyone at me. If you’re near the rim, I’m going to be looking for you.”

Bynum scored four of the Lakers’ first six points by slamming home perfect lob passes from Gasol. And with so much attention on Bryant, Gasol kept knocking down 17-foot jump shots. Gasol thinks all the drama surrounding this team in the aftermath of Bryant calling out management and a subsequent players-only meeting might have galvanized this group.

“Adversity and negativity can give you an opportunity to get together and be even closer,” Gasol said. “We have each other’s backs regardless of what’s going on at other levels.”

Bryant caused a firestorm Sunday night when he said it was time for the Lakers to make a decision regarding Gasol’s future with the team. And if this was his way of trying to light a fire under his teammates, it appears to be working. Gasol finished with 24 points (11-of-18) and pulled down nine rebounds. When Gasol cooled off in the second half, Fisher responded with 13 points, including back-to-back shots to give the Lakers an 89-82 lead with 3:43 remaining. The Lakers had trouble closing out the Mavs because Matt Barnes, Bryant and Gasol each missed a pair of free throws in the final minute. The Lakers were clinging to a 93-91 lead with 20 seconds left when Gasol’s miss from the line was rebounded by Barnes. He made both free throws and the Lakers were finally able to exhale.

“It’s Dirk’s fault,” Bryant would later explain.

The Mavs star had missed two free throws earlier in the fourth quarter, which is a rare sight. Everyone in the Lakers locker room was in a joking mood after Wednesday’s rare road win (6-11). While Gasol finished his media session, Bryant once again reminded reporters that his one-legged fadeaway was much easier on the eye than Nowitzki’s.

“He knows it’s true,” Bryant said. “His shot’s ugly. It is. It looks terrible. Anybody in Dallas that says Dirk has a pretty fadeaway is lying through their teeth. It just looks disgusting, but it’s extremely effective.”

Meanwhile, Lakers coach Mike Brown, who had come under fire for his marathon shootarounds earlier in the week, tried to downplay all the drama surrounding his team in recent days.

“People made a big deal of players meeting,” said Brown. “But we have coaches-only meetings every day.”

It was only one game, but it did remind you of how the Lakers dominated the Mavs in the paint during the 2010-11 regular season. And since he was in Texas, Fisher made the appropriate analogy in discussing how important it was for Gasol and Bynum to get plenty of touches.

“It’s kind of like the running game in football,” he said. “That’s huge for our team.”

It may not have been “Friday Night Lights”, but it’s a start. Now, the Lakers have one more chance before the break to work on what Bryant referred to as their “terrible” road record.

In terms of signature wins in the regular season, this one may have some staying power. That is, unless Brown decides to hold a three-hour shootaround Thursday.