The Dallas Mavericks came into Staples Center on Sunday looking forward to the NBA playoffs. The Lakers came in looking forward to the NBA draft.
And both teams took a big step toward their respective goals, with the Mavericks rallying for a 100-93 win that kept them six games up on New Orleans in the race for the Western Conference’s final postseason berth, while the Lakers’ fifth straight loss kept them in contention for a lottery pick.
But just who the Lakers decide to add if they end up with that pick will depend, in large part, on who they decide to keep. And auditions for those spots entered a new phase Sunday when Coach Byron Scott juggled his lineup to give starting spots to forwards Wesley Johnson and Jordan Hill and center Tarik Black.
“We’re still trying to find out the guys that are going to be here next year, that can help in the future of this team,” Scott said. “Right now all these guys are just trying to find their way.”
Johnson, Hill and Black apparently got lost in the fourth quarter Sunday. Because after combining for 29 points and 15 rebounds in the first three periods, they disappeared in crunch time, managing just one rebound — and no points — among them. And the Mavericks took full advantage, blitzing the Lakers, 16-3, over the final 6 1/2 minutes to pull away.
“Same old story,” Scott said. “They turned it up a notch on the defensive end; we turned it over a bunch of times. Every shot that we had was under duress. We didn’t move the ball as well as we did earlier in the game.
“The problem is we just don’t have guys that can close games out right now. You can’t teach that.”
Perhaps you can draft it.
But in the meantime, Scott will work with what he has — especially Black and guard Jordan Clarkson, who had 15 points in the game but more turnovers (two) than points in the final period.
“He will keep learning,” Scott said of Clarkson. “Jordan’s not the problem. Jordan’s one of our bright spots. We will keep putting him in situations like this, and he will continue to get better.”
Clarkson did most of his damage just after halftime, scoring six points in little more than a minute to give the Lakers a nine-point lead at 59-52.
That advantage eventually grew to nine, but the Lakers couldn’t hold it, and when Al-Farouq Aminu hit two free throws after being fouled by Black late in the fourth period, the lead was gone for good.
Despite the fade down the stretch, Scott said he expects to stay with the same lineup for the rest of the month — which means a lot more Tarik Black.
“Tarik is a guy that can play in this league, no doubt about it,” he said. “But I want to see what he can do in a 10- or 15-game stretch with maximum minutes.
“See if he can stay out of foul trouble. See if can rebound the ball like I think he can. Run the floor, defend.”
And while the early returns weren’t promising on the scoreboard, Scott said that’s only one part of his audition process.
“I’ve always thought adversity — which this season has been — tests the character of a man,” he said.
“We’ll see what kind of men we have in our locker room when it’s all said and done.”