Lakers crumble late, allowing the Mavericks to win by three buzzers
Anthony Davis cut through the lane and finished the basket for an easy two points on possession in Friday night’s first quarter, scaring off Dallas’ Josh Green and nabbing a defensive rebound on the next trip on the court.
It was the kind of influence Davis can offer, his unique two-way influence on a game, that’s why the Lakers can still be credibly optimistic about their season even if they’ve never been over .500.
But part of the reason the Lakers have more losses than wins was Wednesday in Houston when Davis didn’t play in the Rockets’ win.
When he was back on the pitch on Friday it wasn’t any better.
The Lakers lost in a heartbreaker, Maxi Kleber waved a three on the buzzer to beat the Lakers 111-110.
The Lakers have been clear on their strategy over the past month, prioritizing health over overall standings. With no restrictions, no back-to-back games to stop anyone, the Lakers just had an opportunity Friday.
Against the Dallas Mavericks, a team just a game ahead of them in Friday’s standings, the Lakers had a chance to make a real move. Minnesota, Golden State, New Orleans and Portland all lost, giving the team a valuable chance to gain ground.
You didn’t take it.
From down as much as 14, the Lakers fought back to take a five-lead lead in the fourth before the Mavericks staged a comeback of their own. Three free throws by Kleber (after being fouled by Davis in a three-pointer) made it a one-point play.
Davis shared two free throws to give the Mavericks a chance to win or draw.
There would be no overtime, the Lakers forced the ball out of Kyrie Irving’s hands, but Kleber stepped in and took the shot when the horn sounded.
Davis finished the tournament with 26 points and 10 rebounds and five other Lakers had at least 10 points on a night when the team was badly outplayed by Irving and the Mavericks from the three-point line.
Dallas made 11 more three-pointers than the Lakers, who also missed 14 free throws against just four for the Mavericks.
To make matters worse, it’s the team’s second straight loss after Houston was allowed to steal a game on Wednesday without Davis being out as a precaution.
“Nobody will feel sorry for you,” said Lakers coach Darvin Ham after the loss to the Rockets. “No matter who is in the lineup or not, we have to be ready. The guys who are available and playable, we have to come and do our best.
And after suffering a stress reaction in his right foot and missing 20 games with the injury, Davis clearly has a “best foot,” even if he’s pain-free and at risk of re-injury in consecutive games.
Still, that strategy comes at a price — and it’s one that teams around the Western Conference seem to be paying.
By emphasizing potential post-season health instead of regular-season wins, teams like the Lakers, the Clippers, and the Mavericks are potentially sacrificing key games in a packed playoff race.
It hasn’t completely disappeared from the radar. On Friday at the team’s shootaround, Dennis Schroder told reporters that he had one specific spot in mind — outside of the play-in tournament.
“I think how we are as a group at the moment, I think the chemistry is perfect,” said Schröder.
“As I said, we just have to try to be number 6, that’s our goal and our wish. And then go from there.”
Even so, the number 6 would open the playoffs on the road.
Ham, who has more than 25 years of NBA experience as a player and coach, has seen a shift toward health become paramount for teams heading into the postseason.
“I don’t think it’s completely changed, but I think health comes first [seeding]’ Ham said. “…And the playoffs, I won’t say they’re overrated, but you have to win away at some point to become world champions, so you just have to be solid, healthy, confident and playing at a good rhythm.
“And no matter where you play, you give yourself a chance. But just with the home game I’ve seen teams multiple times, many, many postseasons have home field advantage and it doesn’t matter because they gave up those home games.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.