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                === Confident Kobe leads Lakers into Dallas ===
 
 (Sports Network) - There's nothing wrong with a little bit of confidence.
 
 Los  Angeles Lakers  superstar Kobe Bryant is  brimming with it and now has to
 back  up his  recent words, starting with Sunday afternoon's road tilt against
 the Dallas Mavericks.
 
 In  an interview with Sports Illustrated, Bryant said he feels the Lakers will
 make the playoffs and has no fear in who they'll play when they get there. The
 five-time  NBA  champion and 15-time All-Star  had the support of teammate and
 veteran point guard Steve Nash.
 
 "That's  great. You love it when your best player has that confidence and that
 challenge,"  Nash  said in his reaction  to Bryant's guarantee. "In a way he's
 put it out for us to go get now."
 
 Bryant's  claim doesn't seem to bother Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, who said he
 doesn't  mind just as long as the team backs it up. L.A. is three games behind
 the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final postseason spot in the West.
 
 The  Lakers have won two in a row and 10 of their last 14 games, and completed
 a  four-game homestand with a 3-1 record. They are coming off Friday's 111-107
 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers as Bryant scored 40 points on 15-of-23
 shooting and Dwight Howard added 19 points and 16 rebounds.
 
 "I'm  just trying to do whatever I can to help this team win," Howard said. "I
 still  have to  do a better job  of finishing around the basket. I missed some
 shots  that I normally  don't miss tonight in the paint. I have to continue to
 work and do better."
 
 Bryant,  who has  five 40-point  games  this season,  is 11  points away  from
 becoming  the  youngest player  to 31,000  points. The  Lakers will also visit
 Denver  on this quick  trip and are 9-18 as the guest. In injury news, Nash is
 probable with a sore back.
 
 Dallas  has been on a roll lately with three straight and five of six wins. It
 will  open a  brief homestand against the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks, and just
 posted a 104-100 triumph versus the New Orleans Hornets on Friday.
 
 Dirk  Nowitzki scored  25 points and Vince  Carter netted 22 for the Mavs, who
 rallied from four points down (100-96) with 55.5 seconds to go. Mike James and
 Carter both buried big 3-pointers and Darren Collison's two free throws helped
 Dallas end the contest on an 8-0 run.
 
 "It  was  as big as  it gets," said Mavericks  coach Rick Carlisle. "Down four
 with  a minute to  go, the great thing was no one ever wavered or lost belief.
 The guys kept battling."
 
 The Mavericks also set a new franchise record with 17 blocks. They have scored
 100-plus  points in six straight games, averaging 110.0 in that time, and have
 eclipsed  the century  mark in scoring in  16 of the past 18 games. Dallas has
 dished out at least 20 assists in 21 consecutive games, too.
 
 Dallas  is  16-10 at home  this season. Nowitzki has  scored 24 or more points
 three times in the last eight games.
 
 The  season series  between the Mavs and  Lakers is tied at a game apiece with
 each team winning on the road. Los Angeles, though, has won seven of eight and
 15 of the last 19 matchups in the series. Dallas has lost four in a row to the
 Lakers in Big D.
 
 02/24 11:00:51 ET

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