Kobe Bryant's 19th career triple-double lifted the Los Angeles Lakers to a 101-81 triumph over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday in a duel between teams fighting for a Western Conference playoff spot.
On a night when the Lakers honored former center Shaquille O'Neal by retiring his jersey No. 34 in an extended halftime ceremony, Bryant and his current teammates showed their minds were firmly fixed on the future and not the past.
Bryant scored 23 points with 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Big man Dwight Howard scored a game-high 24 points and also grabbed 12 rebounds and Earl Clark contributed a double-double off the bench of 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Pau Gasol added 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and Steve Blake chipped in 11 points as the Lakers pulled level with the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final spot in the West -- although Utah own the tiebreaker between the two clubs.
"I just thought our defense in the first half was great," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I didn't think we had a great game offensively ... didn't get 'hot'. But we were playing so hard defensively we won it that way."
The Mavericks were led by Chris Kaman, who scored 14 points before fouling out.
O.J. Mayo scored 12 points and Dirk Nowitzki, Darren Collison and Vince Carter scored 11 each.
The Lakers led by as many as 16 in the first half, and took a 55-40 lead into the interval.
After a halftime break prolonged for the tribute to O'Neal, the Lakers came out flat and Dallas closed the gap to 63-58 with three minutes left in the third quarter.
However, Clark and Antawn Jamison combined to score nine straight points to help the Lakers finish the quarter strongly and take a 72-61 lead into the fourth.
With just over four minutes to play the Mavericks trailed by seven, but the Lakers inexorably pulled away.
Bryant again played all but a few seconds of the contest.
"I'm a little sore right now," he admitted after the game. "My back's a little sore, hamstring's a little sore... I've got to push through it a little right now."
In pre-recorded video played at halftime, Bryant called former teammate O'Neal "the most gifted specimen I've ever seen play this game."
Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson then spoke about O'Neal, who played eight seasons with the Lakers from 1996-2004, wining three titles in four NBA finals appearances.
"Fun, fun, fun, did we have fun!" said Jackson, who received a rapturous welcome from the Staples Center crowd.
"For me, Shaquille, I want to thank you for your dedication, leadership and the hard work you put in," he added.
O'Neal dedicated the night to late Lakers owner Jerry Buss. He thanked his parents and six children.
"It's a dream come true. It's a blessing," O'Neal said of the honor of having his jersey retired. "I didn't do it by myself. I had a lot of help -- great teammates, great organization, the Buss family, great leadership from Phil Jackson."