DALLAS, May 7, 2011 (AFP) – Dirk Nowitzki scored 32 points to lead the Dallas Mavericks past the Los Angeles Lakers 98-92 on Friday and push the reigning NBA champions to the brink of elimination from the playoffs.

Serbian sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic and Jason Terry shined in the fourth quarter as the Mavericks erased an eight-point deficit and seized a three games to none lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference second-round series.

The Mavericks can clinch a berth in the West finals against either Oklahoma City or Memphis and complete a sweep to dethrone the two-time defending NBA champions with a victory in game four at Dallas on Sunday.

No team in NBA history has ever rallied to win a series after losing the first three games but Nowitzki is not counting on history alone to send the Lakers packing.

“We’ve got to go for it on Sunday,” Nowitzki said. “We’re not good enough to coast or relax. I’ve seen a lot in this league already. I don’t want to be the first one (to blow a 3-0 lead).”

The Mavericks stayed unbeaten in home playoff games after being the first team in 34 years to open a playoff series with two victories over the Lakers in Los Angeles.

“Everybody hung in and kept battling,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “Dirk Nowitzki made it happen. Just about everything that happened down the stretch was a result of him making something happen.

“We’re going for the (championship) ring. Dirk is one of the all-time greats. That’s the one thing he hasn’t done in his career. We’re one step closer but we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.

“We’re going to have to stay humble and stay hungry.”
For the third game in a row, the Mavericks outscored the Lakers in the fourth quarter and outplayed the champions down the stretch.

Stojakovic hit 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and Terry added seven of his 23 in the fourth as the Dallas playoff win streak reached five games.

“The key to the game, aside from Dirk being the guy who facilitated everything on offense, was that Peja did a great job on Lamar Odom the last six or seven minutes.

“We needed Peja’s shooting out there but the job he did defensively was equally important.”
Los Angeles, playing without the suspended Ron Artest, had some fatigue issues, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, adding that the team double-teamed Nowitzki “ineffectively and irrationally” in the fourth quarter.

“We’re disappointed,” Jackson said. “We feel like games one and three we controlled the pace and we weren’t able to finish the game off.

“We feel like we’re going to win the next game and go on from there.

“Play too well to lose is what I said.”

Andrew Bynum completed a 3-point play and Shannon Brown added a bank-shot layup with 9:28 remaining to give the Lakers a 79-71 lead, the largest either club had enjoyed to that point.

“We didn’t panic really,” Nowitzki said. “They had us going all night. We stuck with it. We sat in the huddle saying, ‘We’re going to keep fighting, keep plugging, keep them working, shoot from all angles.’ We finally got some stops and some shots
on the offensive end and that was big.”

Stojakovic sank a 3-pointer from the right corner to lift Dallas within 81-78. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol answered for the Lakers but Nowitzki and Stojakovic sandwiched 3-pointers around a Bryant jumper to pull the Mavs within 87-84.

Jason Kidd sank two free throws for Dallas and Nowitzki followed with two free throws of his own to put the Mavericks on top. Derek Fisher followed with a Laker jumper but Jason Terry answered with a 3-pointer for Dallas.

After Odom scored to pull the Lakers level at 91-91, Nowitzki lofted a left-handed shot over Gasol to put the Mavericks ahead to stay.

Terry followed with four free throws, the second pair after an inbounds pass went out of bounds off Odom’s fingertips. Gasol added a free throw late but Kidd sank two more with 8.5 seconds remaining to create the final margin.

“They finished a little better than we did. Difference in the ball game,” Jackson said. “We were spending too much energy on disappointments instead of playing through things.”

Bynum finished with 21 points to lead the Lakers while Odom added 18 and Bryant contributed 17.