Kobe Bryant had 38 points to win a scoring duel with Dirk Nowitzki, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks 103-99 Sunday in a matchup of teams fighting to get in the playoff race.
With chants of MVP from a strong contingent of Lakers fans, Bryant scored 14 in the fourth, including seven in the final 3 minutes to hold off a spirited Dallas effort.
Nowitzki finished with 30 points and 13 rebounds for the Mavericks, who had a chance to pull virtually even with the Lakers for ninth place in the Western Conference. Houston is in eighth, with a cushion of several games.
Bryant, who also had 12 rebounds and seven assists, was playing in Mark Cuban's building two days after the outspoken Dallas owner suggested in a radio interview that the Lakers might have to consider dumping the five-time NBA champion through the amnesty clause.
Steve Nash had 13 of his 20 in the second half against his former team in a game that neither team led by more than six.
The Lakers went up 94-90 with three free throws after O.J. Mayo was called for a foul and a technical on a drive by Bryant. It was Mayo's fifth foul, and he jumped around wildly after the call. Nash made the technical free throw before Bryant's pair.
Nowitzki was called for a technical earlier in the quarter after a similar display when he missed a shot during a physical sequence with Metta World Peace.
Bryant scored again from just inside the arc for a 94-92 lead, and Nash answered Mayo's first 3-pointer of the game with his third from long range in the second half for a 99-95 lead.
Bryant did it again in the final minute after Nowitzki missed a free throw on a potential three-point play, hitting a jumper for a 101-97 lead. Nowitzki scored to make it a two-point game, and World Peace missed a free throw to give Dallas a chance to tie. Mayo missed a 3-pointer with about 5 seconds left.
Dwight Howard had three big free throws in the fourth and finished with nine points and 13 rebounds.
Bryant had already put on a display of shooting, driving and shot-blocking when he took over early in the fourth, but Nowitzki and the Mavericks kept answering.
Bryant scored on three straight possessions with Jae Crowder guarding him and had the ball again the fourth time down when Nowitzki ran over to help. Bryant's pass was intercepted by Vince Carter, and Mike James fed Nowitzki for a dunk and a 90-87 Dallas lead.
Nowitzki and Bryant each scored 16 in the first half, which ended in a 54-all tie, and kept it up in third quarter, finishing that period with 24 apiece.
The Lakers had the biggest lead at six — several times — and the Mavericks erased each one through three quarters. Nowitzki's 3-pointer from the top of the key late in the third made him 4 of 4 from long range and capped a 7-0 run for a 71-70 Dallas lead, but Bryant scored twice on drives after a timeout to put the Lakers in front again.
In the first half, Nowitzki was 5 of 8 from the floor, made both 3-pointers and all four free throws and led everyone with eight rebounds. Bryant, meanwhile, was 3 of 4 from long range, including a pair from well behind the arc, but just 1 of 6 inside the line. He had a game-high six assists before halftime.
NOTES: Bryant got a technical in the first quarter when he gestured at referee Ken Mauer after Darren Collison stole ball. It was his league-leading 13th technical — one ahead of DeMarcus Cousins of Sacramento. A one-game suspension is in order when a player reaches 16 technicals. ... Mavericks C Chris Kaman entered the game in the second quarter after missing 10 straight games with a concussion. ... The Mavericks scored at least 30 points in the first quarter for the fifth time in six games.