All good things must come to an end, and thus the Lakers 10 game winning streak is over. The Mavericks game into Staples Center on Sunday afternoon and steamrolled the Lakers, the final score of 114-100 not fully capturing what took place.
We’ve said this several times in the past two-plus weeks (including in our game preview), but just because the Lakers were winning games, it did not mean they were playing great basketball. Their defense had been slipping and while their offense was improving to compensate, they could still be prone to dry spells that put them in holes they’d needed to climb out of to continue winning. That worked against so-so/below average/bad teams, but this would not work against better teams.
The Mavs, with their league leading offense and top flight coaching, proved this sentiment true. The Lakers, though up double digits early on, loosened their grip on the rope and the Mavs tugged it in their direction. When they tugged hard enough, the Lakers lost their grip entirely and even were never able to regain it.
It was frustrating to watch, but anyone who’d watched this team closely over the last 8 games or so could tell you that a game like this was coming. It was only a matter of time before their “we’ll turn it on, make a run, and then ride our talent advantage until the other team folds” approach to winning games wasn’t going to fly. Sooner or later a team was going to withstand their run and not fold; sooner or later a team was going to punch the Lakers in the mouth and then hold them off instead. The Mavs were that team. Credit to them.
If you’re looking for a true synopsis of this game, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:
- The Lakers took the lead early by blitzing Luka Doncic in the pick and roll to force the ball out of his hands before he could seek out his own scoring opportunities or put the defense into help situations where he could make passes. This led to a stagnant Mavs offense where the Lakers continued aggression defensively forced turnovers and missed shots that turned into transition scoring chances.
- After getting that big lead, the Lakers slowly started to relax defensively, particularly when Doncic went to the bench. The ball moved more freely and the Mavs capitalized on relaxed closeouts and mistimed help with made 3 pointers. By the end of the 1st quarter, the Lakers lead was only 5. By halftime, the Lakers lead was only 3.
- In the 3rd quarter, the Mavs continued to mix in some zone defense and smart help in their man-to-man scheme to gum up the Lakers offense. When LA did get things going to the basket, they did not get calls they thought they deserved, and subsequently got upset at the refs. With frustration overflowing, the Lakers focus only dwindled more and the Mavs just continued to work through their progressions offensively, driving to score or driving to kick to open shooters who knocked down shots. Before too long, the Lakers 3 point halftime lead was a deficit teetering on 20.
- The Lakers made one last push towards the end of the 3rd quarter to cut the Mavs lead down to 10, but Dallas was able to snuff out that run by continuing to play smart basketball. Luka, as he was most of the game, served as the antidote against the Lakers attack, getting into the paint and creating good shots for himself and teammates. And when he didn’t get into the paint, he shot his stepback 3 to great results.
- In the 4th quarter, the Lakers could not get any footing and ultimately enough time went off the clock that the combination of score + clock = a loss. Game over. The end.
This game, then, basically showed where the Lakers have been struggling of late, but just against a better team that was not only able to take advantage of it but also good enough to hold the Lakers off when their inevitable push back came. Again, good on the Mavs. They earned this one.
Last night and into this morning I’ve seen quite a bit of hand wringing about the Lakers. Strength of schedule truthers are out in force and folks pointing out their flaws as a team1dearth of non-LeBron playmakers, up and down shooters, lack of a big wing defender pretty loudly. I don’t know how to feel yet about any of that, honestly. I mean, all of the following are true: This team is 17-3, they have flaws, they need to play better, they have shown a resiliency and a level they can reach that is quite high and good enough on many nights to win.
All of these things don’t always align or make for an easily framed argument for or against them. If you’re saying this team is worse than its record…I mean, maybe that’s true! If you’re saying that no team can win forever, indefinitely, and that every team has a bad night…that’s true too! The Lakers are probably in the middle here and it bears watching where things go, not just in December, but probably through the trade deadline.
In other words, this team was due a loss, just on the numbers of it all. That said, they were also due a loss because their level of play had slipped to the point where a team was going to market correct them in a way that flew in the face of all the wins they’d racked up recently. Their flaws are real, but those flaws are both somewhat correctable internally and somewhat problematic over the long haul against specific matchups who can perform to a certain level.
Are these things I’m going to worry about right now? Not so much. Not because they don’t matter, but because I quite enjoy the day to day mechanics of watching a good to very good team do work rather than worrying about the playoffs in the first week of December. There’s a time and place for everything and, for me, I’m not at the time nor the place.
In saying that, the schedule is getting harder and the results will reflect that. This team is not a juggernaut, but I knew that before a Sunday matinee loss to the Mavericks. I do want to see more, however, because I think seeing how this team performs against a more balanced schedule will help us get to more fully formed opinions on what this team actually is. That will take time, however. I’m glad we have some.
Now, for some notes…
- The Lakers shot 7-27 from behind the arc this game, which, obviously, is a problem. With the Mavs hitting 17 3’s, being -30 from distance is nearly impossible to overcome when most of the other stats are relatively close.
- Speaking of 3’s, Kyle Kuzma was 0-5 from deep and only 1-8 overall. It’d be one thing if Kuz was contributing in other areas, but his 1 rebound, 1 assist, 0 steal, 0 block night is not that. Even more, he made several mistakes defensively in this game, at least twice botching rotations and also playing too slow when being run off screens and too low at the point of attack when hedging or switching in the P&R. To be fair, Kuz was coming off an ankle injury and was questionable to play at all. That said, if you’re out there and moving as well as he was, he needed to be better than he was in some area. I’m not going to use this performance as a reason to indict him or question his utility as a contributor to this team in the big picture, but it was a bad game so let’s just call it like it was.
- Rondo played one of his best games against the Wizards on Friday night, but we saw all his flaws against the Mavs on Sunday — even with his 7 assists. He didn’t attempt a single 3 even though the defense barely guarded him. The way he compromised spacing was noticeable in the 2nd half, particularly, where the Mavs defense really squeezed AD and LeBron on any drives, to the point that they ended up settling for more jumpers. This was a game where I’d just as well have exhumed Quinn Cook from the end of the bench to see if he could have hit some shots and run a couple of P&Rs instead of seeing how the negative spacing Rondo contributed to gummed things up.
- LeBron and AD combined for 52 points…which means the rest of the team only combined for 48. That’s not a formula for success. Alex Caruso’s 10 points were 3rd best on the team…yuck. KCP and Danny Green combined to go 6-17 and 3-10 from 3 for a total of 15 points in 51 minutes of game action. I already mentioned Kuz’s play. Dwight and JaVale combined for 8 points in 28 minutes. This was a night where the Lakers role players just didn’t have it. If one of these guys pops for 16-20 points, it’s a different game. But no one could do it.
- I mentioned this earlier, but it should be repeated — the Lakers stopped doing the things that made them successful in the early going and that’s frustrating. I did not think blitzing Luka was going to work the entire game, but not sticking with it longer hurt the Lakers. I don’t know if it was a lack of energy or a predetermined shift from the coaches, but it was disappointing to see them go away from something that was clearly working.
- The Lakers need default sets and strategy to combat zone defenses. Teams are going to continue to throw it at them periodically and every possession where they look ill-prepared for it is one that invites their opponent to stick with it until the Lakers beat them consistently. One thing I’d like to see is for wings to not settle for early 3’s (hi, Kuz) vs. the zone and instead make it a point of emphasis to drive gaps to force the defense into rotations. If the weakside is relocating as they should be, better open shots will be available than the kind that come off a simple swing pass.
That’s it for this one, folks. I hope to have another piece up later today.