"We're both fighting for our lives," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said before Sunday's game at the American Airlines Center.
Both superstars played like it Sunday, going at each other in a wonderfully feisty duel that the Lakers pulled out, 103-99.
After scoring 40 in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night, Bryant flirted with a triple-double Sunday, finishing with 38 points on 13-for-21 shooting, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 30 points on 11-for-19 shooting and 13 rebounds, but Dallas just didn't get enough from its supporting cast. Dallas' four other starters had just 21 points.
Steve Nash had a season-high 20 points, including a clutch 3-pointer with 1:44 to go that gave the Lakers a 99-95 lead.
How it happened: Bryant put the Lakers on his back once again, scoring 38 points after dropping 40 on the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.
The Lakers continued a recent run of solid production from their bench as Antawn Jamison (13), Jodie Meeks (11) and Steve Blake (five points) gave them a nice lift and made up for an awful game by Metta World Peace, who was held scoreless until the final minute of the game and finished with just one point on 0-for-6 shooting.
What it means: The Lakers and Mavericks have won three of the past four NBA titles, but if the playoffs started today, both would miss the playoffs for the first time since the 1993-94 season. Unacceptable for two proud franchises. With Houston off today, both teams had a chance to gain some ground.
The Lakers' win put them two and a half games behind the Rockets. Dallas is now four and a half games back.
Hits: Nash bounced back from his awful 2-for-11 shooting performance Friday night with 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Nash tweaked his lower back early in Friday's loss and wasn't effective running the pick and roll, or fluid with his shot. It's nothing Nash hasn't dealt with before, though, and he was clearly recovered by Sunday's game.
Misses: Dwight Howard got into early foul trouble and never really got going offensively in this game. After averaging 21.5 points and 14 rebounds in his past two games, Howard finished with just nine points and 13 rebounds against the Mavs.
Stat of the night: Bryant picked up his league-leading 13th technical in the first half. Three more and he'll be suspended for a game. He always pushes that envelope and stops just short. We'll see if he's as disciplined this season.
What's next: The Lakers will fly into the teeth of a snowstorm that's hitting Denver on Sunday night. It won't be much easier when they get to the Pepsi Center on Monday night, where the Nuggets' 23-3 home record is tied with the Miami Heat for the best in the NBA.