The Lakers left November as the hottest team in the NBA. They entered December greeted by a cold slap of reality.
But after being dealt their first loss in the past 11 games, they wanted to make sure of one thing. That, like the two losses they’d had before, this did not become a trend.
“We don’t want to lose two in a row,” Anthony Davis said. “Ever.”
The Dallas Mavericks took advantage of all the Lakers mistakes and beat them, 114-100. The loss snapped a 10-game winning streak constructed entirely against teams with losing records. The Lakers (17-3) hadn’t played a team with a winning record since Nov. 10, when they lost to the Toronto Raptors.
The Mavericks, on the other hand, entered the game 12-6, with one of those six losses coming in an overtime game against the Lakers.
“I believe in our guys,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “If we play to our abilities, there’s nobody we can’t beat and nowhere we can’t get a W. So we got to make sure that we respond from this and bounce back.”
Dallas star Luka Doncic led the Mavericks with 27 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds. The Mavericks also got double-digit contributions from Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell, Delon Wright and Justin Jackson. LeBron James and Anthony Davis were the only Lakers to score more than 10 points with James scoring 25 and Davis 27.
The Mavericks showed early why they have the best-rated offense in the NBA, making 10 three-pointers in the first half. The Lakers were able to contain Doncic early, limiting the guard to only six first-half points, though he had five assists.
Dallas’s halftime adjustments, though, freed up Doncic and the Mavericks opened the third quarter on a 9-0 run.
“They pushed the tempo a lot more, played with better pace than us,” James said. “Couple calls went against us and kind of changed the momentum of the game.”
Vogel thought his players became “consumed” by the officiating.
“We attacked the basket and didn’t get a couple calls and ended up complaining to the refs and they would run out the other way scoring,” Davis said. “Our defense was terrible today -- we didn’t rebound the basketball therefore we keep giving them second chance points and they made us pay with threes.”
The Lakers only grabbed nine offensive rebounds the whole game and none in the third quarter. Players could hear courtside celebrity Denzel Washington shouting for them to rebound better.
They went a span of four minutes of playing time without scoring a single point — a drought broken by a three-pointer from Alex Caruso. Before his shot, the Mavericks had built a 20-point lead. Caruso’s three was the beginning of a 10-0 run by the Lakers.
But after the Lakers got to within 10, Doncic did what he could to undo their progress. Doncic dished an assist to Wright, then scored five points of his own. The Lakers went into the fourth quarter trailing by 15.
“I think really in the third quarter, I think we just kind of let the game get away from us,” Caruso said. “For 12 minutes, I think we didn’t follow the game plan of what we were trying to do. Gave up some long rebounds, some easy buckets and then we didn’t make shots.”
James and Davis stayed in the game until late in the fourth quarter, but little could be done to undo the damage.
Their self-imposed challenge is now to continue to follow any loss with a win. Over an 82-game season, that might not be realistic – but the Lakers aren’t thinking of it that way.
“Realistic is the mindset,” James said. “It’s not about, sometimes you lose games in a row. Just having that mind-set and that approach.”