LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant had 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 19th career triple-double, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks 101-81 Tuesday night in a key game for the two teams struggling to get into the Western Conference playoff picture.
Dwight Howard had 24 points and 12 rebounds while hitting seven fourth-quarter free throws for the Lakers (39-36), who had lost four of six before jumping to a big early lead on Dallas and hanging on to it throughout the second half.
With former coach Phil Jackson in attendance for Shaquille O'Neal's jersey retirement, Bryant put on a virtuoso performance while playing more than 47 minutes.
With the win, Los Angeles moved back into an eighth-place tie in the West with the Utah Jazz (39-36), who hold the tiebreaker edge on the Lakers.
Dallas (36-38) still has a game in hand on the Lakers and Jazz, but the Mavs' task just got tougher. Chris Kaman scored 14 points and Dirk Nowitzki had just 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting for the Mavericks, who had won four of five.
After trailing for most of the night, Dallas was down by just seven points when the Mavs began intentionally fouling Howard. Hack-a-Dwight backfired miserably, with Howard going a respectable 7 for 12 while the Lakers made a decisive 16-1 run, holding the Mavericks without a field goal down the stretch.
Pau Gasol had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, while Earl Clark contributed 17 points and 12 rebounds while playing a stellar defensive game off the bench.
Bryant has rested for just 79 seconds in the past two games, but he's keeping the Lakers afloat during their latest round of injuries.
The Lakers played without Steve Nash and Metta World Peace, forcing coach Mike D'Antoni to create his latest makeshift starting lineup in a season full of them. Nash is hopeful he'll return Friday after a bit more rest for his injured hip, while World Peace won't be back any time soon from surgery on a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Although the Lakers aren't at full strength, at least they can get some rest at home. After a road-heavy March schedule, the Lakers must leave Los Angeles just once more in the regular season during their sprint to the playoffs, making a single overnight trip to Portland while playing six of their last eight on their home court.
The Lakers retired O'Neal's No. 34 jersey at halftime, with Lakers luminaries including Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Jamaal Wilkes assembling for the ceremony. The Staples Center crowd loved Shaq, but the fans adored former coach Phil Jackson, who attended what was likely his first game since walking away from the team in 2011.
Jackson was serenaded with multiple chants of "We want Phil!" during his brief remarks to the crowd, echoing the same chants that filled Staples Center late last year when the Lakers flirted with bringing back the 11-time NBA champion coach before unexpectedly hiring D'Antoni to replace Mike Brown.
Jackson watched the first three quarters from courtside next to his fiancee, Jeanie Buss, and the Lakers appeared to be putting on their best performance in front of him. Bryant was particularly brilliant, racking up 17 points, nine assists and six rebounds in the first three quarters.
The Lakers made an 18-6 run for a 16-point lead late in the first half, with Bryant playing an all-around game. After banking in a tremendously difficult 16-footer while getting fouled, he spun and appeared to look directly at Jackson, whose smile didn't change.
Los Angeles' 15-point halftime lead dwindled to five before Clark led another rally, and Bryant kept the Lakers ahead in the fourth quarter before Dallas resorted to purposely fouling Howard.
NOTES: Even during his special night, O'Neal didn't let up on his season-long motivational criticism of Howard. "He has the potential to be one of the greatest big men ever, but he has to want it," O'Neal said of Howard, who has reacted coolly to Shaq's prodding on television. ... O'Neal thanked celebrities, actors and agents during his speech, including Adam Sandler - his co-star in the upcoming "Grown-Ups 2." ... Nowitzki got a technical foul for arguing with 4:04 to play while Dallas trailed by seven points.