DALLAS - Just when they were about to make things interesting, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers blew it.
Unable to stop Dirk Nowitzki all night, and their big lineup too slow to cover the outside shooting of Peja Stojakovic and Jason Terry down the stretch, the Lakers lost 98-92 to the Dallas Mavericks on Friday to fall in a 3-0 hole in their second-round series.
All 98 teams in NBA history that have trailed by that margin have wound up losing the series. Thus, the Lakers' two-year reign as NBA champions and their three-year grip on the Western Conference crown, plus the unprecedented coaching career of Phil Jackson, are all on the brink of going kaput - maybe even with the humiliation of a sweep.
Of all the reasons they're in this predicament, the most stunning is that this pedigreed team has fallen apart when it matters most. They wasted a 16-point lead in Game 1, losing at the buzzer when a 3-pointer by Bryant went in and out, and they failed to hold a seven-point lead with 5:05 left in this game. Dallas rallied with an 18-6 run jump-started by 3s by Nowitzki and Stojakovic.
"We're disappointed," said Jackson, who has never been down 3-0 in a series, much less been swept, in 20 years as an NBA coach. "We feel like Games 1 and 3 we controlled the pace of the games. They were better at finishing the games than we were. But we still believe we're going to win the next game and we'll go from there."
The Mavericks pulled this game out by scoring 32 points in the fourth quarter, the most by either team in any period this series. Bryant said the Lakers helped by making "some of the dumbest defensive mistakes I've seen us make all year."
BULLS 99, HAWKS 82
ATLANTA - Derrick Rose looked every bit like the MVP, slicing up Atlanta for a career-high 44 points as Chicago seized control of the Eastern Conference semifinals with its best performance.
Rose was dominant from the opening tip, slashing into the lane for a basket that prompted Atlanta to call a timeout before game was a minute old. He finished off the Hawks midway through the fourth with back-to-back 3-pointers.