LeBron James and Lakers fight back from down 21, fall to Mavs in frustrating finish

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic drives past Lakers forward LeBron James.
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic drives past Lakers forward LeBron James during the second half Tuesday at Arena.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

LeBron James fell into the Lakers bench like a construction worker after a 16-hour day, arms and legs flying to the sides, head rolled back, looking to the ceiling.

He was exhausted, physically spent from fighting for position in the paint, mentally wiped out from another necessary comeback after the Lakers’ biggest weaknesses were mercilessly exposed by the Mavericks.

It was late in the third quarter Tuesday night at Arena, a flurry of James’ jumpers swinging momentum to the Lakers. But it wouldn’t stay there.


This year, it rarely has.

Slow on defense, cold on offense, frustration everywhere, the Lakers again dug a hole too deep to escape in a 109-104 loss.

The climb is brutal. And there’s no sign of it getting easier, the team with 21 games left to salvage some positives from a season defined by disappointment.

The script Tuesday — and from so many games this season — just won’t work. Their effort to undo a 21-point Mavericks lead with a dominant third quarter, which gave them the lead heading into the fourth, was wasted by a sputtering finish.

The Lakers will waive center DeAndre Jordan and sign veteran point guard D.J. Augustin, who could provide them with a perimeter shooting threat.

The Lakers are just too flawed, too short-handed, too inconsistent to survive falling behind by more than 20. With James, they’re good enough to come back and make it interesting. Without enough of everything else, they’re unable to win.

James had 26 points and 12 rebounds, Carmelo Anthony had 20 points off the bench and Malik Monk scored 17. Luka Doncic led Dallas with 25 points.

Unlike their spiritless performance Sunday against New Orleans, which was a new rock bottom in a season with an ever-sinking floor, the Lakers played with plenty of heart against the Mavericks. But heart and effort aren’t enough, especially against a team with realistic playoff goals like the Mavericks.

After a tight first quarter, Dallas’ lead grew to as many as 21as the Lakers’ defense was toothless against Doncic and Jalen Brunson. They got stops in the third quarter and pushed in transition, undoing the lead and sending James to the bench in a heap.

And though the Lakers were able to build their lead to as many as six in the fourth quarter, they were outscored 15-4 down the stretch while the Mavericks surged into the win without much resistance.

“It’s just disappointing,” coach Frank Vogel said.

Lakers guard Malik Monk shoots as Dallas Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock and center Dwight Powell defend.
Lakers guard Malik Monk shoots as Dallas Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock, right, and center Dwight Powell defend during the second half Tuesday at Arena.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Before their third straight loss, the man who was once supposed to take Vogel’s job spent Tuesday afternoon defending it.

Jason Kidd, hired to be a Lakers assistant before the team even had a coach, was seen by many as the likely successor if Vogel stumbled in his first months on the job in 2019. He, not Vogel, was the man with the tight relationships with the Lakers’ best players, and he, not Vogel, would satisfy the organization’s star-driven tendencies.

But as the Lakers kept winning, Vogel and Kidd formed a tight bond that’s continued now that Kidd is coaching the rival Mavericks. Kidd even left Vogel a gift in the visiting locker room the first time these teams met this season.

And Tuesday, before they played again, the Lakers in midst of a miserable slump, Kidd gave Vogel another one — an endorsement.

“He’s going to work through this process that he’s going through right now with his team. Frank is great coach in this league,” Kidd said, speaking softly but directly. “As much as we want to put blame on coaches, it’s a partnership. Players have to take accountability too.

“He’s won a championship here in L.A. And so I think he’s going to be fine.”

The Lakers lost a second straight game since the All-Star break with a big loss Sunday to New Orleans. Here are five takeaways from the game.

While not fully absolved of the Lakers’ failings this season — it’d be hard to call anyone with a fingerprint on this group blameless — Vogel’s been forced to scramble all season. And that scramble continued against the Mavericks with yet another starting lineup.

The Lakers opened the game with James at center, flanked by Austin Reaves, Monk, Stanley Johnson and Russell Westbrook. It was their 30th different starting lineup of the season, and anther one that didn’t lead to a win.

“What I’m doing right now, not good enough,” Westbrook said after another rough, five-for-17 shooting night.

It’ll be over soon enough, James and the team having plenty of time to rest if they can’t make the right changes.