It is now the second half of the regular season. The 19-22 Lakers are in quite a position. On the surface, 12th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference sounds extremely bad for a non-tanking team. But considering they’re only 3 1/2 games behind the 4th place Sacramento Kings, that doesn’t seem so bad, after all.
Also, while they don’t have a stellar record at home, the Lakers have played the second fewest games on their home floor. They’re 10-8 at Crypto Dot Com Arena and going to play their next five games there. So they have to take advantage of this home cooking for the next week and a half.
The first to visit the Lakers? The 23-19 Dallas Mavericks.
And we remember what the Mavs did to the Lakers on Christmas Day. The Mavs scored a million points (okay, it’s 51 but what’s the difference?) in the third quarter. And we know how much the third quarter haunts the Lakers.
The fifth-seeded Mavs recently had a 7-game win streak of their own (which includes the Lakers in that streak). But they’ve lost three of four since, including a loss to the cold Clippers. Still, every team has its ups and downs and we know that Luka Doncic will be hyped to go against one LeBron James.
Luka has been otherworldly in his last 9 games: 40.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 1.7 steals per. That feels beyond “video game numbers”, as the kids say. He’s just on fire right now.
It’s easy to say he does it alone but Doncic does get some help. Christian Wood has been inserted into the starting line-up; in his 14 games, he’s averaging 19.8 points and 8.6 rebounds. Somehow, he has more than double the blocks as a starter (31 in 14 games) than as a reserve (14 in 25 games). Wood had a 30-8-7 performance as well as four steals against the Lakers. So don’t be fooled about Luka being a one-man team.
Especially when he wasn’t doing the most damage in that third quarter. Tim Hardaway, Jr. put in 16 of his 26 points in that all-important third period. He can still score in bunches and he’s going to benefit on all the double-teams Luka gets.
And they still have Spencer Dinwiddie averaging 16.1 points and 5.2 assists per game. He is their secondary playmaker and capable of hitting big shots.
The Lakers decided to two-team Luka a lot of the game. It worked in the first half but then in the second half, the Mavs simply couldn’t miss and made the Lakers pay for it. And Doncic still got 32-9-9. I still say they should shut down the supporting cast and let Luka go for 70 points or whatever.
As for the Lakers, they’re coming off a loss against Denver, which snapped their five-game win streak. LeBron James did not play in that game but he’s listed as probable for Thursday. Troy Brown, Jr. also seems ready to return against the Mavs. Unfortunately, Patrick Beverley will be joining Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves, and Lonnie Walker IV in the trainer’s room; he has a non-COVID illness (his hip seems to be fine after that slip in Denver).
The Lakers have taken some hits in the health department but they’ve been pretty resilient since their 2-10 start. They’re 17-12 since and if they can continue to get incredible production from James, Thomas Bryant, and Dennis Schröder (he had a bad game against Denver), they’ll be able to stay in it. They were better at it against Denver (13 turnovers) but they really need to not give the ball away. We know the Mavs like to chuck it from three so hopefully, they can close out and make crisp rotations towards the shooters. I will reiterate that no matter what coverage Luka gets, he’s going to get his. So I’d stay home on the other players.
Still, it should be an electrifying match-up. Luka has been a must-watch player especially this season. And we know that LeBron James is always game for the challenge. We’ll see what the second half of the season brings for the Lakers.