Lakers win critical game in playoff race

Bryant finished with 23 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds for his 19th career triple-double.

The Lakers moved back into a tie with the Utah Jazz (who won Monday night) for eighth place in the West at 39-36. Los Angeles has seven games remaining on its schedule. If the two teams finish in eighth place with the same record, Utah owns the tie-breaker.

Meanwhile Dallas fell 2 1/2 games behind the Lakers and Jazz for the final playoff spot.

The Lakers held a 55-40 halftime lead and never let the Mavericks dig much into the lead in the second half. Earl Clark had 17 points and 12 rebounds off the bench and was particularly effective in the second quarter with Bryant resting.

Chris Kamen led Dallas’ effort with 14 points and six rebounds.

The Staples Center was packed for the halftime festivities, during which Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey was retired.

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