By the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, the Lakers could afford to laugh at private jokes and to sit LeBron James, who pretended to playfully karate chop Lonzo Ball’s head when Ball left the game to join James on the bench.
They had a comfortable lead, something they hadn’t experienced in more than a week and a half, and something they haven’t achieved often this season. They were enjoying it.
The Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks 114-103 for their second win in as many nights, and the second of a four-game homestand.
“We got out of here late last night and less than 24 hours we had to be back and get ready to go versus a team that was playing extremely well,” James said. “It was another mental challenge for us and we were able to overcome that.”
James finished with 28 points, four assists and five rebounds. Dallas forward Harrison Barnes led all scorers with 29 points. Brandon Ingram scored 19 points and often guarded Dallas rookie Luka Doncic, who went 2-of-13 Friday night.
Tyson Chandler and Kyle Kuzma contributed double-doubles for the Lakers (13-9) — Chandler’s first since Oct. 24, when he was playing for Phoenix against the Lakers.
Whereas Thursday the Lakers squandered a big first-quarter lead before recovering to win, the Lakers on Friday found themselves in a big, early hole.
“You take responsibility and then you relock, you reload; you hit the reset button,” James said. “For me, I’m my own biggest critic, so I already knew what type of first quarter I had and it resulted in us playing poor basketball in that first quarter. Just hit that reset button. When I came out of the game with two fouls, I hit the reset button. I already knew that I would be much better when I went back in the game.”
James deadpanned that he charged on Doncic intentionally.
In the second quarter, he reversed his performance. He scored 10 points and made all five of his shots, adding two assists and two rebounds. As the Lakers worked to undo their early deficit, they outran Dallas. In the second quarter, the Lakers scored 15 fast-break points and the Mavericks scored none.
“When we’re out on defense, and we’re getting in the passing lanes and we’re rebounding the basketball, I think that starts the offense,” Brandon Ingram said. “I think we’re the best when we’re runnin’ and gunnin’ and just pushing the ball ahead. Just making layups, our shooters shooting threes and just feeling comfortable on the floor.”
At halftime, the Lakers trailed by five. They kept it close in the third quarter.
Then, with his fifth steal of the night, Ball completed the Lakers’ comeback with 8:21 remaining in the third quarter.
He poked the ball away from Barnes and then, moments later, secured a fast-break dunk that gave the Lakers their first lead since the first quarter.
“When you come straight to the NBA when you’re young, one year in college, defense is normally the last thing you do when you’re a high draft pick,” Walton said of Ball’s effort. “We saw his defensive instincts; he was way more advanced than we thought he would be on that side of the floor.”
But it wouldn’t be that easy. The Mavericks countered with a 7-0 run for a lead that the Lakers chipped away at methodically. During a span of more than four minutes, Kuzma made three three-pointers and scored 13 of his 15 points to help the Lakers take back the lead. After three quarters, the Lakers were ahead 78-75.
All of a sudden, their three-point attempts began to fall. Whereas the Lakers made only one of 11 threes in the first half, they made eight of 19 in the second half. A three by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gave the Lakers a 95-86 lead with 7:33 left in the game and elicited a Dallas timeout.
It was Caldwell-Pope’s first make in five tries and gave the Lakers a comfortable lead they never relinquished. James hit a three with 2:36 left that put the Lakers up 111-93.
He left the game immediately after, a win well in hand.
“It was ugly that first quarter,” Walton said. “We weren’t getting back in transition. We had good shots we just weren’t making shots. We had too many turnovers, we still had too many turnovers for the whole game, we got to continue to get better at that. But we found that energy to start the second and we carried it on.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli