Sunday, March 2, 2008

Kobe scores 52 as Mavs fall short in LA

LOS ANGELES – The Mavericks had one of the Western Conference’s best in their sights in the final few seconds for the second time in four days.

And for the second time, they fell just short.

Jason Kidd’s missed free throw with less than 10 seconds left in overtime enabled Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to close out their 108-104 victory Sunday afternoon. The Mavs (39-21) left the Staples Center for Utah knowing they once again had their chances.

“We were right there, but ‘right there’ in this league doesn’t get you anywhere,” said Dirk Nowitzki, one half of an epic duel with Bryant down the stretch. “You have to find a way to get those big stops. Somebody has to make the big shots so we win those games.

“Like I said, we had enough chances in both games. Just the little extra step is still missing. Hopefully we can keep working, keep improving, so we can win those big games on the road.”

Nowitzki scored a team-high 30, carrying the team in the fourth quarter and overtime with 21 points during that span. His dramatic 3-pointer with two seconds left in regulation, followed by a spirited verbal tirade, forced the extra session. But the reigning MVP was eventually upstaged by the one serenaded with “M-V-P” chants from the sellout crowd during his countless trips to the line.

Bryant’s season-high 52 points – the 22nd 50-point game of his career – were too much to overcome, especially considering the damage done when the clock was stopped. He took 27 free throws and made 20 – both totals more than the Mavs – and nailed his last 17. He scored 30 after the third period.

“We gave him a single look, then we double-teamed him, then we gave him a triple-team,” Avery Johnson said. “And he split the triple-team and scored. Obviously, he milked the free throw line on us tonight. And he just had it all going, but we tried to zone him, we tried to funnel him in the trap for a zone and he went the other way, so he didn’t cooperate on any of our defenses.

“He’s a great player. You can’t take anything away from him. He has these nights. Lots of these.”

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