Drama might fill Mavs-Lakers series

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DALLAS --- The verbal jabbing of Phil Jackson and the mind games with Ron Artest will begin soon enough.

First, Mark Cuban wanted a day to celebrate his Dallas Mavericks making it to the second round to face the Los Angeles Lakers.

"We have our hands full," Dirk Nowitzki said of facing the Lakers.

The Mavs won a playoff series Thursday night for only the second time since reaching the 2006 NBA Finals, and it wasn't easy. A colossal collapse at the end of Game 4 in Portland forced a return trip to the Rose Garden for Game 6, and Dallas almost let another big, late lead slip away. Only this time, Nowitzki found a way to stave off those pesky Trail Blazers, scoring 33 points in the 103-96 victory.

There's been plenty of drama between the teams this season.

It began in January, with Jackson saying that a season-ending knee injury to Caron Butler "just leaves a vacuum that's going to be very hard for them to fill." Cuban used it as an opening to taunt Jackson, targeting the coach's relationship with Lakers executive Jeanie Buss.

"I love that Jeanie Buss' boy-toy had something to say about us," Cuban said. "It's nice to know that she lets him speak in public about other teams."

Replied the 65-year-old Jackson: "I consider myself an old man. To hear that I'm a boy-toy? That's terrific."

The Mavs won the first meeting between the clubs, snapping a six-game losing streak and was soon followed by an 18-1 roll.

Nowitzki insisted Los Angeles was still the team to beat. The Lakers beat the Mavericks in Dallas on March 12, then closed the month with a 110-82 spanking in Los Angeles.

A few days before the last matchup, Cuban tried getting under Artest's skin by saying, "Anything that puts the ball in Ron Artest's hands is always a good thing. ... Of all the choices you have on that team, you want Ron Artest making the decisions in the triangle." Artest kept his cool in that game, but others didn't. Mavericks guard Jason Terry shoved Lakers guard Steve Blake while the rout was on and Los Angeles' Matt Barnes shoved Terry in retaliation. There were multiple ejections.

"We've had some interesting games," Dallas point guard Jason Kidd said. "But those games don't mean anything. Both teams are 0-0, so we'll see who hits the floor first."


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