This time, there was no last-minute magic.
There was no encore for Kobe Bryant, no reprieve for the Lakers, no victory in the second night of a back-to-back situation.
The Lakers weren’t horrible, but they certainly weren’t sharp, losing to the Dallas Mavericks, 101-96, Wednesday at American Airlines Center.
Bryant looked fatigued in his second game back from a five-game layoff, making only nine of 23 shots and scoring 20 points.
Andrew Bynum tailed off rapidly after a first quarter in which he had eight points and seven rebounds, finishing with 10 points, 11 rebounds and a telling five turnovers after several problematic possessions in the post.
The Lakers couldn’t even capitalize on the absence of Caron Butler, sidelined because of what the Mavericks called a bad reaction to medication.
A Lakers victory 24 hours earlier in Memphis, triggered by Bryant’s three-pointer with 4.3 seconds left, quickly became a vision of the past.
“I expect a lot of tough games coming up,” Pau Gasol said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to resolve them better than we did tonight and not as hard as we did [Tuesday]. I think we have to step it up a notch here in order to be successful on the road and not come down to the wire every single time.”
The Lakers had their chances to create a cushion, extending to a nine-point lead after Bryant’s 13-footer late in the second quarter, but the Mavericks continually pounded them, Exhibit A coming in the rebounding department.
The league’s second-best rebounding team statistically, the Lakers took only 36, well below their 44.8 average. The Mavericks had 41 rebounds.
“I think we should have done a lot better as far as rebounding the ball so we could have more possessions and limit them to less possessions,” Gasol said. “They had 13 boards on the offensive glass, we only had seven, which is something that we wouldn’t anticipate at the beginning of the game.”
Gasol didn’t have a great game, finishing with 11 points and six rebounds. He had only nine shots, making five.
Bynum was also ineffective the final three quarters, bottoming out in the second half with two points and two rebounds in 11 minutes.
But most eyes were on Bryant, who didn’t look like the player with a 32-point outburst against Memphis in his return from a sore left ankle that had sidelined him for 18 days.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said Bryant “felt probably a little bit fatigued.”
Said Bryant: “I felt OK. I tried to pace myself a little bit.”
The Mavericks (37-21) pushed the ball most of the night, getting big games from Dirk Nowitzki (31 points) and sixth man Jason Terry (30 points).
Dallas had been staggered by the Lakers (43-15) in recent seasons, losing eight of its last nine games to them, but not Wednesday.
“They wanted to come in here tonight and end that, put a stop to that,” Bryant said. “They played with a lot of energy, played with a lot of hunger and came up with the win.”
Bryant passed Reggie Miller for 13th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and now has 25,298 career points, though it wasn’t a highlight-worthy evening for him.
With the Lakers down by three, Bryant missed a long three-pointer with 25.9 seconds left. Terry made two free throws, which Bryant matched with 9.9 seconds left, but the Mavericks then played keep-away and weren’t fouled until there were 1.8 seconds to play. Nowitzki made two free throws to close out the game.
Afterward, Gasol thought long and hard after being asked if the Lakers coast too much in games. The short answer: yes.
“Sometimes we just get a little too comfortable, too confident in games and we don’t push hard enough at times to be able to pull away from teams,” he said. “You give a home team confidence, they get going, the crowd gets into it. We’ve got to control games. We have enough guys here and enough quality that we can do that.”