In case there was any doubt, the Los Angeles Lakers showed they aren't going to be knocked around during their quest for a third straight NBA championship.
When push comes to shove, they can be physical with the best of them. Just ask the Dallas Mavericks.
Kobe Bryant scored 28 points, Andrew Bynum had 18 points and 13 rebounds, and the Lakers defeated the Mavericks 110-82 in a testy affair in which five players were ejected Thursday night.
In what was a possible preview of a second-round playoff matchup, this one had a postseason flair to it. Early in the fourth quarter, the Lakers' Matt Barnes and Steve Blake and the Mavericks' Jason Terry and Brendan Haywood were thrown out following a shoving match under the basket. Los Angeles' Shannon Brown was later ejected in a separate incident.
"This is a family here," Barnes said. "So if someone comes and hits your brother, pushes your brother, then you definitely have their back. And that's the case here."
The late skirmish didn't take away from the Lakers' eighth straight win and 16th in 17 games since the All-Star break, helping them pull within 2½ games of slumping San Antonio for the NBA's top overall record. Los Angeles (54-20) also tied Chicago for the second-best mark in the league.
"We don't want games to end like that, but you want to see players competing and caring about the game at the level which brings that kind of intensity," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It's just a buildup, a buildup for what we can see down the road."
Dirk Nowitzki had 27 points and 13 rebounds for the Mavericks, whose five-game winning streak ended.
The Lakers' recent run started with a 96-91 road win over Dallas on March 12. They entered Thursday's matchup just a half-game ahead of the Mavericks for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
"I think it's becoming a big rivalry," Mavericks forward Shawn Marion said. "It's fun. That's part of basketball."
Things turned ugly with 9:23 remaining when Terry delivered a two-handed shove to the back of Blake as he drove to the hoop. Blake and Terry went toe-to-toe, exchanging words before Barnes intervened and pushed Terry.
Barnes was restrained by Mavericks assistant Terry Stotts in front of the Dallas bench. He attempted to walk toward the Lakers' bench and shook off Stotts' grasp, sending the coach flying into spectators sitting courtside.
"I definitely lost my cool," Barnes said. "But I think (Jason Terry) may have lost his cool a little bit for the fact we were really putting it on their team."
Play was stopped for several moments as referees went to the replay monitors. Terry was hit with a flagrant-2 foul, sending seldom-used Lakers center Theo Ratliff to the line for a pair of free throws, which were both missed.
Barnes shed his jersey and tossed it into the stands when he exited the court on the way to the locker room.
"It was a chippy game, but the playoffs start early," Nowitzki said. "That's what the playoffs are all about. Emotions are going to run high and things are going to happen."
Despite the ejections, and possible looming suspensions, Bryant believes that incidents such as this can do a team good.
"It brings us closer together, simple as that," he said.
Pau Gasol had 20 points, and Lamar Odom finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds for the refreshed Lakers, who were playing their first game in four days since routing New Orleans 102-84 on Sunday in winning their 10th in a row at home.
Odom came alive late in the third quarter. The Lakers led 79-70 before Odom accounted for all the points in an 11-0 run. He hit a 3-pointer to close the third and added a pair of 3s and a layup to open the fourth for a 90-70 lead with 10:25 to go.
The Lakers cruised from there, despite another confrontation that resulted in Brown being sent off when he got tangled up with the Mavericks' Brian Cardinal with 1:52 to go.
"We just wanted to put our stamp on the game and let everybody know that we're here to win," Bynum said of the Lakers' refusal to back down.
The Mavericks, who own the best road record in the NBA, fell to 3-1 on their season-high, six-game road trip. They weren't able to complete the Los Angeles sweep a night after beating the Clippers in the same building.
Nowitzki was the Mavericks' lone starter in double figures, with Peja Stojakovic scoring 13 points and J.J. Barea adding 10 off the bench as Dallas shot 36.1 percent (30 of 83).
"It's a good check. We have to grow up," said Mavericks center Tyson Chandler, who grabbed 10 rebounds. "If we are going to get to where we want to go, we are going to have nights like this, and we are going to have to step up to the challenge."
The Lakers' streak of fine play has suddenly supplied hope in catching the Spurs in the standings, something that seemed unlikely when they slumped into the break with three straight losses.
"We're on a roll right now, and we're playing well," Odom said. "We just wanted to come out and play our A-game. And since the All-Star break, that's what we've been doing."
Los Angeles and San Antonio each have eight games remaining in the regular season. The two will meet in the second-to-last game of the regular season on April 12.
Notes: The Mavericks are 13-2 against the Pacific Division this season, with both losses coming against the Lakers. ... Odom's 16 points gave him 12,002 for his career, making him the 23rd player in NBA history to have 12,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 3,000 assists. Odom needed 821 games to achieve the feat, the ninth fastest to do so. ... Barea and Nowitzki also picked up technicals.