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Mavs, Lakers Battle For 2nd In West

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Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers
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LOS ANGELES (AP) – The Dallas Mavericks have the best road record in the NBA, so the prospect of not having home-court advantage past the first round of the playoffs shouldn’t seem all that daunting.

The Los Angeles Lakers, however, have spent the last few months showing they’re not particularly accommodating hosts.

The red-hot Lakers have won nine straight at Staples Center since the All-Star break, and they can make it eight consecutive wins overall Thursday night in a showdown with Dallas and potential second-round playoff clash.

Road success is nothing new for the Mavericks (53-21), who are 27-10 away from home after finishing an NBA-best 27-14 in 2009-10.

But that dominance didn’t carry over into the playoffs, when second-seeded Dallas lost all three road games while being upset in the first round by San Antonio.

If it can survive the first round this spring, Los Angeles (53-20) would likely be up next. The Lakers currently have a half-game lead over the Mavericks for the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed, meaning Thursday’s game could go a long way in deciding which team would host a potential second-round Game 7 between two teams that haven’t met in the postseason since 1988.

“It’s as important as the last game we played against Dallas,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Wednesday, referring to a 96-91 road win March 12. “It was a game we keyed on our schedule and have guys thinking about it.

“It creates an opportunity to get some space between us and Dallas but it’s still not the end, obviously.”

The Mavericks won their first game against the Lakers 109-100 at home Jan. 19, though, leaving the season series even heading into the only regular-season meeting at Staples Center.

Dallas is 2-0 in Los Angeles this season, however. The Mavericks held on to beat the Clippers 106-100 on Wednesday, their fifth straight win while improving to 3-0 on their six-game road trip.

Talk then quickly shifted to the battle for the No. 2 seed.

“It’s not the end of the world to be (No.) 3, but we’re going for it,” Dirk Nowitzki said.

Facing the Lakers, though, presents a far different challenge. Jackson’s team is 15-1 since the All-Star break, has won nine in a row at home and is well-rested after Sunday’s 102-84 rout of New Orleans.

“It’s good, but don’t make a big deal out of this,” said Pau Gasol, who had 23 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. “It’s not a big deal if we end up 24-1. What matters is we get to the playoffs healthy and with the best record possible.”

The Lakers could use another big game from Gasol, particularly considering Kobe Bryant’s recent struggles against the Mavericks. The 13-time All-Star has been held to 17.0 points per game while shooting 40.8 percent versus Dallas since the start of last season – his worst average against any opponent.

The teams have split six meetings in that span, and the key to the Lakers’ victories has been Andrew Bynum. They’re 3-0 against the Mavericks when their 23-year-old center scores at least 19 points and 0-3 when he’s held under that mark.

Dallas, meanwhile, has plenty more than Nowitzki to count on versus Los Angeles. Jason Terry has averaged 21.7 points in his last three games in the series, while Shawn Marion has averaged 23.5 – nearly twice his season average – in the past two meetings.

Los Angeles has won 20 consecutive home games when it’s scored at least 97 points.

Copyright 2011 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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