Final: Lakers 114, Mavs 113

  • When you remember back on this game, you will probably remember the final 10 seconds. Kyle Kuzma missed a free throw that would’ve put the Lakers up by three, Luka Doncic answered with a difficult floater, Wesley Matthews fouled LeBron James going the other way, and then James missed the first free throw, leaving the game in doubt. But Dallas trailed by 17 after the first quarter and by 14 with just over four minutes left in this game. The Mavs made an incredible comeback to even get to that point, but it was what they had to come back from that was the difference in this game. The first quarter is the most important quarter. (Never forget it!) Dallas is now 1-1 when ahead after one and 1-5 when behind. The Lakers made a couple ridiculous shots early in the game, and that certainly mattered in the final score, but it’s the easy buckets — the run-out layups off a turnover, the second-chance points, the 50/50 balls — that will come back to bite you later on. Credit the bench for scratching and clawing its way back into the game after a rough past couple outings, and the starters as well for nearly pulling it out late. But the first 12 minutes are those that matter most.

  • Doncic made a few eye-opening plays late in the game. First, he found a streaking DeAndre Jordan with a lead pass just far enough out in front of Jordan to beat the defense and allow for him to catch it in stride, but on point enough for him to be able to dunk it without stopping his momentum.

    The next trip down the floor, he defended LeBron about as well as you could hope someone to without fouling.

    Finally, down four, he drove the lane hard and anticipated help, then delivered a pass to Barnes for 3.

    It’s one thing to watch that last play happen and see how wide-open Barnes was, but it’s another to not see Barnes at all and still be able to sense he’d be open. It’s like a quarterback feeling the pass rush. Doncic pump-faked and felt James closing in, so he delivered a pass to the open man. Good players make simple plays look simple. (While we’re here, this was easily Barnes’ best game of the season.) Doncic finished the game with 14 points, seven assists, and five rebounds, and most of his numbers came in the final frame. It was a great fourth quarter, but earlier in the game he got off to a rough start from the field. For young players — and this goes for Dennis Smith Jr., too, who had a couple very solid games in a row before having a quiet line tonight — developing consistency throughout games is one of the toughest things they will ever have to do. Barnes talked about that often during his first season in Dallas, calling the expectation of consistency the toughest adjustment he had to make following his move from Golden State. Exploding for five minutes here or there is great, but playing rock-solid for 24, or 36, or whatever it may be is the biggest, and most demanding, step for any rising star.

  • Despite all of this — slow starts, unfortunate fouls, and inexplicably nuclear opponent 3-point shooting consistently throughout every single game — the last two games have been decided by a combined one point at the end of regulation. Dennis Smith Jr.’s last free throw against the Spurs should have counted for three quarters of a point, and tonight the Lakers came out one point on top after a stretch run where neither team could get a free throw to go. One bounce here or there, one stop here or there, one bucket here or there, and two losses become two wins. The 2-6 record is not pretty, and you don’t get half a win for almost winning, but the Mavericks have literally been about as close as you can be in the last two games. Unfortunately the results didn’t go their way, for many reasons. Perhaps they soon will.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (2-6) will come home for two games, beginning with a Friday night against the Knicks. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.

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