Lakers crumble late, allowing Mavericks to win on buzzer-beating three
Anthony Davis sliced through the lane and finished at the basket for an easy two points on one possession in the first quarter Friday night and deterred Dallas’ Josh Green and grabbed a defensive rebound on the very next trip down the court.
It was the kind of impact that Davis can offer, his unique two-way impact on a game the reason why the Lakers can still credibly be optimistic about their season even if they’ve never been over .500.
But a part of the reason why the Lakers have more losses than wins was Wednesday in Houston, when Davis didn’t play in the Rockets victory.
With him back on the court Friday, it wasn’t any better.
The Lakers lost in a heartbreaker, Maxi Kleber swishing a three at the buzzer to beat the Lakers 111-110.
The Lakers have been clear in their strategy over the past month, prioritizing health ahead of the standings. With no restrictions, no back-to-back games to hold anyone out, Friday, the Lakers just had an opportunity.
Playing the Dallas Mavericks, a team just a single game ahead of them in the standings entering Friday’s game, the Lakers had a chance to make a real move. Minnesota, Golden State, New Orleans and Portland all lost, giving the team a precious chance to gain ground.
They didn’t take it.
After trailing by as many as 14, the Lakers fought back to lead by five in the fourth before the Mavericks mounted one comeback of their own. Three free throws from Kleber (after he was fouled on a three by Davis) made it a one-point game.
Davis split two free throws to give the Mavericks a chance to either win or tie.
There would be no overtime, the Lakers forcing the ball out of Kyrie Irving’s hands, but Kleber stepped in and swished the shot as the horn sounded.
Davis finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds and five other Lakers scored at least 10 on a night when the team was badly outshot by Irving and the Mavericks from the three-point line.
Dallas made 11 more threes than the Lakers, who also missed 14 free throws against just four for the Mavericks.
Making matters worse, it’s the team’s second-straight loss after allowing Houston to steal a game Wednesday with Davis out for precautionary reasons.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for you,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said after losing to the Rockets. “No matter who is in or out the lineup, we got to come ready. The guys who are available and capable of playing, we got to come and put our best foot forward.”
And after suffering a stress reaction in his right foot and missing 20 games with the injury, Davis clearly has a “best foot,” even if he’s pain free with the risk of re-injury elevated in back-to-back games.
But, still, that strategy has a cost — and it’s one teams around the Western Conference seem willing to pay.
By emphasizing potential postseason health instead of regular-season wins, teams such as the Lakers, the Clippers and the Mavericks are potentially sacrificing critical games in a packed playoff race.
It’s not completely off the radar. Friday at the team’s shootaround, Dennis Schroder told reporters that he had his eyes on a specific place — outside of the play-in tournament.
“I think how we are as a group right now, the chemistry, I think, is in a perfect place,” Schroder said.
“Like I said, we just have to try to get the No. 6 seed, that’s our goal and our wish. And then go from there.”
Still, the No. 6 seed would open the playoffs on the road.
Ham, who has more than 25 years of NBA experience as a player and a coach, has seen a shift toward health becoming the most important thing for teams as they head into the postseason.
“I don’t think it’s completely changed, but I do think health takes precedence over [seeding],” Ham said. “… And the playoffs, I don’t want to say it’s overrated, but you’re gonna have to win on the road at some point in order to be world champions, so you just have to be solid, healthy, confident and playing in a good rhythm.
“And no matter where you play, you give yourself a chance. But just having home court, I’ve seen teams multiple times, many, many postseasons have home-court advantage and it doesn’t matter, because they gave up those home games.”