DALLAS -- Maybe the old legs of the Los Angeles Lakers were cracking and burning with the early tipoff. Maybe Dwight Howard's self-acknowledged lack of conditioning cost him another game at the offensive end.
But maybe the Lakers still have that familiar burst of offense from the one guy who can throw them all on his shoulders when needed.
Kobe Bryant turned back the calendar with a impressively efficient 38-point effort in a 103-99 victory Sunday over the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center.
He had 14 points in the fourth quarter, drilling shot after shot, all five he took, sticking it to rookie Jae Crowder, veteran Vince Carter, whomever the Mavericks threw at him.
The Lakers needed it with a 10 a.m. PST tipoff, with Metta World Peace scoring one point and Howard missing five of seven shots, not to mention five of 10 free throws in 32 foul-plagued minutes.
Howard was solid on defense, though, taking 13 rebounds and distorting plenty of shots, but Bryant was the narrative, making 13 of 21 shots, taking 12 rebounds and adding seven assists.
"It's just what I'm supposed to do," Bryant said. "It's about that time."
February dissolves into March in a handful of days. The Lakers (28-29) won a third consecutive game and pulled to within 2 1/2 games of Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Call it a case of good timing.
Not that Bryant needed it, but he tucked away extra motivation two days earlier after Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said the Lakers should consider waiving him this summer via the one-time amnesty provision, saving them at least $30.5 million in luxury taxes.
"Amnesty THAT," Bryant wrote on Twitter half an hour after the arena emptied, right before the Lakers hopped on their flight to Denver.
To which Cuban replied via Twitter: "Nice to know there is a least one team and their players, outside of the Mavs, that listen to everything I say."
Even though the Mavericks led by two when Bryant checked back in with 9:06 to play, their day was about to end.
He drilled a 26-foot three-pointer, then a 19-footer, then a 20-foot turnaround that left Crowder flat-footed.
He wasn't done, hitting from 22 over Carter and then a 21-footer with 46.9 seconds left for a 101-97 edge.
"Those are shots that I work on. I didn't feel like I was hot or anything," Bryant said. "I feel like I was making shots that I'm supposed to make. When you work on them hundreds of times, then you've got to put them in the basket."
Bryant had been in a massive slump from three-point range, making two of his previous 39 before making four of five against Dallas.
He has heard the whispers about his age, 34 and counting.
"It doesn't annoy me," he said. "I think it's revealing of the individuals' ignorance to think that in 17 years of my career, if there's anything about me that says I'm going to allow you guys to see me slow up."
So he's still having fun?
"More than ever."
Well. That probably depends on what the Lakers do from now until April 17, and then after that, if applicable.
In fact, despite Bryant's performance, the game came down to a missed O.J. Mayo three-point attempt with 4.9 seconds left and the Lakers up by only three.
Despite a season-high 30 points from Dirk Nowitzki, the Lakers improved to still-ugly 10-18 on the road.
"Our goal is like a lot of other teams': We're fighting for our lives," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said beforehand. "If they read the papers, they would understand we've got our backs against the wall."
After all was said and done, the Lakers holding the Mavericks under 100 points for only the third time in Dallas' last 19 games, one more hindrance remained.
"It's snowing like hell in Denver," longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said in the locker room. "We've gotta get out of here. Quickly."
The Lakers, with prodding from staffers, dressed in a hurry. Denver and its 23-3 home record were waiting, snowstorm and everything.
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