Lakers bested by Luka Doncic, Mavericks in two overtimes

LOS ANGELES — There are moments when the margin between winning and losing is simply, and only, greatness.

The Lakers were spectacular for stretches of the second half and both overtimes in Thursday night’s bout with the Dallas Mavericks, chasing down loose balls, galloping in transition, muscling out stops at key moments. But greatness emanates from the fingertips of Luka Doncic, who some consider the best player on the planet right now.

The 23-year-old Slovenian pushed the Lakers to two extra periods with game-tying 3-pointers at the end of regulation and the first overtime. By the end of 58 minutes, the Lakers’ defense had all but run out of steam in a 119-115 loss that felt snatched from their hands.

LeBron James had 24 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists, while Russell Westbrook had a season-high 28 points. But Doncic had 35 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists with those timely tying buckets, pulling the Mavericks (24-19) across the line for their ninth win in their last 12 games. The Lakers (19-23) have lost two straight on the search for the momentum they seized upon to win five straight and get back in range of the play-in spots in the Western Conference.

The last overtime period was a frustrating one for the Lakers’ defense, which had largely put a cap on Doncic and the Dallas offense after a one-sided first quarter. Spencer Dinwiddie (17 points) and Christian Wood (24 points, 14 rebounds, five blocked shots) found buckets in the paint, an area the Lakers had fiercely protected for so much of the game.

James could not find the shooting prowess that Doncic gave the Mavericks: The 38-year-old was just 9 for 28 from the field, missing all seven of his 3-point attempts. The most promising one rimmed out in the final minute of the first overtime, narrowly allowing Dallas a third chance to win the game.

Down by six points with 3½ minutes left in regulation, the Lakers rallied ahead with baskets from four different players: James had a tip-in, Westbrook and Wenyen Gabriel nailed 3-pointers to tie it, then Dennis Schröder had a finger-roll to give them a 99-97 lead.

The Lakers had to sweat out a beat with 11 seconds left when an officiating review determined that Westbrook had been fouled instead of Schröder – one of the team’s best free-throw shooters who won a game last week at the line in Sacramento. But Westbrook, who was 3 for 6 at the line before that moment, sank both to give the Lakers a 3-point lead.

Unfortunately, that cushion wasn’t enough against Doncic, one of the best clutch shooters in the game. He took the ball back shortly after inbounding, then nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc with six seconds left. The Lakers couldn’t find a game-winner on their last regulation possession, even though they strenuously argued that Troy Brown Jr. was fouled by Tim Hardaway Jr. on a final 3-point attempt.

Doncic’s tying shot was the unfortunate capper on what had been an impressive second-half defensive effort against the perennial MVP candidate, who uncorked a 60-point, 10-assist game last month. He had 12 points in the second half, and he was 4 for 11 after halftime when he pulled up for the last 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.

Though James and a few others on the Lakers’ bench know Jason Kidd and the Mavericks coaching staff well, bad blood bubbled up throughout the game between the teams – as well as the officials. There was a boiling point during the first overtime when Westbrook was called for a transition foul against Doncic, then needed to be separated after rising like a shot. Doncic got two foul shots out of the dust-up, which he missed – resulting in an approving roar from the home crowd.

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The last time the Lakers saw these Mavericks, it was in the midst of a nationally televised thumping. Dallas took control of the game in a brutal 51-point third quarter, one the Lakers had to watch again this week during their film review.

At first, it looked like they were in for more of the same: Doncic picked apart the Lakers’ blitzes and double-teams, quickly taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter. By the end of the period, the Mavericks were ahead 36-22 and looking to roll.

But while some of his teammates were cold to start, Westbrook was a fireball. He made 6 of his 10 first-half attempts, driving straight at Doncic on a handful of plays, and spitting pep into a salty second unit. The bench effort helped slow the Mavericks’ attack in the middle two quarters, when they had just 23 points in each.

Among the unsung defensive heroes, Gabriel’s stat line of 14 points, seven rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals didn’t quite tell his impact. The lanky forward helped limit the damage in transition, where the Mavericks scored just six points. His fourth-quarter chase-down block of Wood helped the Lakers seize the lead for the first time since their first basket of the game.

More to come on this story.

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