Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers preview

The Los Angeles Lakers are looking good, while the Mavericks fight for their playoff lives in a prime-time Sunday afternoon matchup between two familiar rivals.

The Dallas Mavericks, the league’s reigning champions, were responsible for the ousting of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of last year’s playoffs, when they swept the Lakers in four games.

This year sees a less-talented Mavericks team that is struggling just to keep their spot in the playoffs and get a chance to play the Lakers again.

As it stands currently, the Mavs are the sixth seed in the Western Conference standings, with only a 1.5-game lead over Houston and Denver, who are both tied for seventh place. With a loss tomorrow, the Mavs could end up with only a half-game lead with five games left in the season.

Denver and Utah are knocking on the playoff door also, being only three games behind the Mavs.

“Right now, you just have to pile up ‘W’s',” Mavs forward Sean Marion said. “I don’t care how you get them; you just have to get them.”

The Lakers meanwhile have been playing pretty well, going 15-6 since March 8, even winning three of their last four games without superstar shooting guard Kobe Bryant.

“When we play hard and when we play well as a team, a lot of good things happen for us,” said Lakers forward Pau Gasol. “With or without Kobe, that’s something that’s standard for this team.”

Players like forwards Matt Barnes and Ron Artest have stepped up and played better and better as the season has gone on, and it is helping the team prosper.

“With Kobe out, guys need to step up, but at the same time, not do too much,” Barnes said. “We’re playing good team basketball right now.”

Artest is averaging 18 points per game over the last five games, including a 26 point outing versus the Spurs on Wednesday night.

Lakers-Mavericks action tips off on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. EDT on ABC.