Confident Kobe leads Lakers into Dallas

There's nothing wrong with a little bit of confidence.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant is brimming with it and now has to back up his recent words, starting with Sunday afternoon's road tilt against the Dallas Mavericks.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Bryant said he feels the Lakers will make the playoffs and has no fear in who they'll play when they get there. The five-time NBA champion and 15-time All-Star had the support of teammate and veteran point guard Steve Nash.

"That's great. You love it when your best player has that confidence and that challenge," Nash said in his reaction to Bryant's guarantee. "In a way he's put it out for us to go get now."

Bryant's claim doesn't seem to bother Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, who said he doesn't mind just as long as the team backs it up. L.A. is three games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final postseason spot in the West.

The Lakers have won two in a row and 10 of their last 14 games, and completed a four-game homestand with a 3-1 record. They are coming off Friday's 111-107 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers as Bryant scored 40 points on 15-of-23 shooting and Dwight Howard added 19 points and 16 rebounds.

"I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help this team win," Howard said. "I still have to do a better job of finishing around the basket. I missed some shots that I normally don't miss tonight in the paint. I have to continue to work and do better."

Bryant, who has five 40-point games this season, is 11 points away from becoming the youngest player to 31,000 points. The Lakers will also visit Denver on this quick trip and are 9-18 as the guest. In injury news, Nash is probable with a sore back.

Dallas has been on a roll lately with three straight and five of six wins. It will open a brief homestand against the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks, and just posted a 104-100 triumph versus the New Orleans Hornets on Friday.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 25 points and Vince Carter netted 22 for the Mavs, who rallied from four points down (100-96) with 55.5 seconds to go. Mike James and Carter both buried big 3-pointers and Darren Collison's two free throws helped Dallas end the contest on an 8-0 run.

"It was as big as it gets," said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. "Down four with a minute to go, the great thing was no one ever wavered or lost belief. The guys kept battling."

The Mavericks also set a new franchise record with 17 blocks. They have scored 100-plus points in six straight games, averaging 110.0 in that time, and have eclipsed the century mark in scoring in 16 of the past 18 games. Dallas has dished out at least 20 assists in 21 consecutive games, too.

Dallas is 16-10 at home this season. Nowitzki has scored 24 or more points three times in the last eight games.

The season series between the Mavs and Lakers is tied at a game apiece with each team winning on the road. Los Angeles, though, has won seven of eight and 15 of the last 19 matchups in the series. Dallas has lost four in a row to the Lakers in Big D.