(Sports Network) - It is believed that the best of anything is usually reserved for last.
The NBA has only two games on the docket this evening and Thursday's matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center gets the late slot on primetime television. The time zone also plays a role in the listings as a showdown between Boston and San Antonio in the Alamo City will precede the anticipated late-night fireworks in Hollywood.
Dallas enters the City of Angels with the league's best road record at 27-10 and is unbeaten in four straight appearances as the visitor. It has won five in a row overall and improved to 3-0 on a six-game trek by beating the Lakers' Staples Center co-tenants, the Clippers, by a 106-100 score Wednesday night. MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki scored 24 points and J.J. Barea added 22 off the bench for the Mavericks, who sit a half-game behind the Lakers for the No. 2 spot in the West standings and are four games in back of the top-seeded Spurs.
"Our defense has been stepping up," said Mavericks guard Jason Kidd, who had five points and a game-high 10 assists. "We're starting to take better care of the basketball and our bench has been huge for us."
The Mavericks scored 21 points off of 17 turnovers by the Clippers and pushed their mark to 40-4 when scoring 100-plus points. They are slated to make stops in Golden State and Portland on the current road swing.
Meanwhile, the well-rested Lakers have been the hottest team since the All- Star break with seven straight wins and a 15-1 record. They have ripped off nine victories in a row at home and are 6-0 on a seven-game residency.
In Sunday's 102-84 blowout of the New Orleans Hornets, MVP candidate Kobe Bryant finished with 30 points and Pau Gasol contributed 23 and 16 rebounds for the Pacific Division-champion Lakers, who are 3 1/2 games behind San Antonio for conference supremacy with nine to go and 28-8 as the host.
"We had a good defensive night tonight," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Our bench struggled and when (New Orleans) got it back to nine points I put the starters back in and they closed."
Bryant became the franchise leader in games played (1,094) and is the Western Conference Player of the Week. He led the NBA with 36.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists in that stretch. Lamar Odom had only eight points in the recent win over the Hornets and is 14 points shy of 12,000 in his career. He will become the 23rd player in NBA history to reach 12,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 3,000 assists.
Lakers veteran guard Derek Fisher has played in 486 consecutive regular season games dating back to April 15, 2005 -- the longest consecutive games streak among all active NBA players.
The 2010-11 season series between the Lakers and Mavericks is tied at a game apiece, with both games played in Big D. The Lakers are 9-3 in the past 12 encounters with Dallas, losers in 34 of 38 road bouts in this series.