Owning the best record in the NBA as November turned to December, the Lakers’ 17-2 mark heading into Sunday’s matinee with the Mavericks required a little bit of context.
The wins, while impressive, had largely come against garbage squads. Good teams are supposed to take care of business, sure, but the Lakers’ season—for all intents and purposes—was going to begin in December once their schedule became the hardest in the league over the next 31 days and stopped featuring a steady string of cupcakes.
On the first day of the final month of 2019, the Lakers played a team currently sporting a winning record for only the sixth time. And in their 20th game of the season, Los Angeles was busted up by one of the game's best players and one of its surprisingly better teams.
Behind their bench, a robust rebounding effort, and the continued brilliance of Luka Doncic—the second year sensation who out-played LeBron James and Anthony Davis, wowing the sold-out Staples Center crowd of 18,997—the Mavericks smacked around the Lakers 114-100 in downtown Los Angeles.
It was the Mavericks’ most impressive win of the season and a bit of a reality check for the Lakers, who had a 10-game winning streak snapped. But the talk after this one was largely about Doncic, whose second half performance was scintillating as Dallas avenged an overtime loss at home to the Lakers earlier this season. Doncic scored 21 of his 27 points after halftime, hitting 8-of-14 from the field as he guided the Mavericks during a blistering third quarter where they put up 35 points on one of the NBA’s best defensive squads. The 20-year-old sensation showed off his incredible skillset that included pin-point passes, precise drives to the basket, and two long step-back threes. Another one came with LeBron guarding him in the fourth.
“He hit a couple of hellacious shots that only a small handful of guys in the whole world can hit,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “LeBron James is one of them. He’s one of them. Those step-back 30 footers it’s hard to describe how hard the shot is and how easy he makes it look.”
While Doncic failed to record another triple-double—he leads the league with seven this season—he barely missed another one, ending up a rebound shy. Davis and James both filled up the stat sheet as usual—LeBron put up a line of 25, 9, and 8 while Davis went for 27, 10, and 2 blocks—but they had no help. Alex Caruso (10) was the only reserve to finish in double digits while the Mavericks out-rebounded the larger Lakers and got huge efforts from Delon Wright (17, 5, and 9) and Justin Jackson (15 points on 3-of-5 from deep). James finished with a +/- of -16. Kyle Kuzma, who's up and down season continued, played 21 minutes and scored just 4 points, finishing with a -15. Davis was a -7.
"We can play better," James said. "Obviously, we know this team is playing extremely well, especially on the road. We knew they wanted to get some get-back. We beat them on their floor, they beat us on our floor. It's a very good team."
Here are 12 other observations from Sunday’s Mavericks win.
The amount of media on hand for Doncic was significant. And the horde that comes out to cover his games figures to only explode over the coming years when he plays in a major media market like LA. There were approximately 30 or so media members trying to get a quote from Doncic post-game in the small visitors locker room at Staples. When asked if Doncic has been attracting James Harden-like media scrums at other road stops, Kristaps Prozingis told us, “Not like this.”
Doncic’s pre-game routine could become the next must-see, a la what Steph Curry’s famous pre-game routine has become. Doncic isn’t going to wow the crowds with his ball-handling and other crazy things that Curry does, but he takes 3s from the logo and swishes them like it’s nothing, quickly following that up with a jumper from 27 or 28 feet. He had the LA crowd oohing and aahing less than an hour before tip.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel was asked pre-game the strategy to slow down Doncic since you can’t really stop him.
“Just make everything hard for him,” Vogel said. “Make it hard for him to get the basketball and any time he comes off anything, just make sure there’s early help in place. We know he’s a great passer. What we do on the backside is every bit as important as what we do on the ball with Luka.”
Doncic had 6 points, 5 asists, and 5 turnovers at halftime, so he didn’t exactly tear things up early. But he still found ways to get his teammates involved and after a rough first quarter, Dallas’s ball movement picked up in the second and that continued in the third quarter where the Mavs outscored Los Angeles by 18 points, going on a 17-0 run at one point. Needless to say, in the second half, the Lakers—who entered the game with the NBA’s fourth-best defensive rating—couldn’t do much to stop Doncic.
The Mavs have some of the worst alternative jerseys in the NBA. They were rocking their City Edition uniforms that feature a graffiti-ed Mavs typeface across the chest. Compared to what the Lakers were rocking, it looked amateurish. Mavericks need to do better next season.
Meanwhile, the Lakers wore their white jerseys generally reserved for home games on Sundays and holidays. Some LA fans have decried the Lakers wearing purple at home and I’m with them. White or gold only, please, at Staples. Reserve purple for the road.
Sunday’s game starts a stretch for the Lakers where they’re going to be playing some of the NBA’s best for a change. Los Angeles actually has the toughest schedule in the Association in the month of December. They hit the road for three straight against Denver, Utah, and Portland. They close out the month with a stretch starting Dec. 17 against the Pacers, Bucks, Nuggets, Clippers, and Blazers. Only the game against the Clippers, on Christmas, comes at home.
"This is a good wake-up call, hopefully, going into this tough road trip ahead," Lakers guard Danny Green said. "We've got to correct some things. We played a decent first half, but we've got to put four quarters together."
The Lakers best start in franchise history was 19-2 during the 1985-86 season. This Lakers team was flirting with it, but obviously will now fall short. This year’s team tied the 2008-9 squad for the second best record in franchise history to start a season. LA, of course, won it all in 2009.
The Mavericks, who are off to surprising start themselves at 13-6, improved to 7-2 on the road this season. But just like the Lakers, their schedule is about to get a whole lot more difficult. The Mavs have the third toughest schedule in December and have a brutal stretch starting Dec. 14 when they play the Heat, Bucks, Celtics, Sixers, and Raptors in a row. Philadelphia has the second toughest schedule in the NBA in December.
Has there ever been anyone better at utilizing a video-game like spin move in transition than LeBron James? He pulled off one of his signature moves several times against the Mavs who were helpless to defend it. It's a marvel to see him move that fluidly in his 17th season.
The Dodgers were well represented at the game. The club’s beloved former manager Tommy Lasorda was on hand while NL MVP Cody Bellinger and closer Kenley Jansen got excellent seats, basically sitting at center court.
While Doncic has been doing crazy things so far, he obviously wasn’t the only player on the court who has been earning serious MVP consideration less than a quarter through the season. LeBron, we all know, looks rejuvenated this season and has been putting up incredible numbers, but should Anthony Davis be the one earning the MVP bouquets over LeBron? Entering Sunday, AD was, after all, leading the Lakers in PPG (26.1), RPG (9.2), STL (1.5), BLK (2.8), and had the highest free throw percentage while taking the most free throws on the team. He has the Lakers’ top defensive rating while sharing the top offensive rating with James. We’re not shading LeBron at all here because he’s been awesome to start off his age 35 season. But if you’ve been overlooking AD (which sounds preposterous) for MVP consideration, time to stop.