Dave McMenaminESPN staff writerRead for 4 minutes
LOS ANGELES — Over and over, while sitting in front of his locker after the game, Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis reiterated how hard it was to process Friday night’s 111-110 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at the buzzer.
Difficult as his closeout wasn’t enough of a deterrent to stop Mavs forward Maxi Kleber from coming off the winning 3 with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. Difficult because Kleber’s shot was preceded by Davis going 1-for-2 from the foul line with 6.7 seconds remaining, leaving LA without a 3-point cushioning that would have at least made Kleber’s shot work overtime instead of outright to win.
Difficult, because just before that, with 7.2 seconds left, with the Lakers leading by four, Davis fouled Kleber on a three-point attempt, and Kleber cleared all three free throws to bring Dallas within one.
“I already came in and told them the last game was my fault,” said Davis, who took the blame for a loss in the Lakers’ past four games, with the other loss coming in Houston when he had to sit out because of a lingering foot injury.
And tough, Davis said, because on a night when four other teams around LA in the standings — Golden State, Minnesota, New Orleans and Portland — all lost, the Lakers failed to capitalize.
“It’s tough across the board,” Davis said after his 26 points and 10 rebounds went for naught.
Instead, all momentum went to the Mavs. Playing on the road without Luka Doncic and welcoming Kyrie Irving to the lineup after a three-game absence due to pain in his right foot, the Mavs came in and took it.
The win moved Dallas to No. 6 in the Western Conference at 36-35, and they won the season series against LA 2-1.
The Lakers are No. 10 in the West 34-37, two full games behind Dallas with 11 games left, but it might as well be three games as the Mavs now hold the tiebreaker.
As painful as it was for Davis, it was just as thrilling for Kleber, who nearly cost the Mavs a game in San Antonio on Wednesday by throwing a full-court inbounds pass out of bounds with 1.8 seconds left in regulation and then to blow an order to clear Keldon Johnson for a lob to send it to OT.
Kleber said during an on-field interview after the game that Irving—who scored 38 points and had Kleber’s assist on the final shot—told him, “That’s redemption” for the San Antonio near debacle.
Wenyen Gabriel, who had nine points and 11 rebounds off the bench and was instrumental in erasing a Dallas 14-point lead to put LA in position to clinch the win, also provided uplifting support for Davis.
“I mean, AD is our leader,” Gabriel said of Davis placing the blame on his shoulders. “He’s our best player at the moment and that just shows that taking responsibility is the best player. That’s something that’s important for continuity as a team and having trust in each other, and of course we trust AD. That was just a moment.” Obviously it’s not just on AD, but him taking responsibility for that is something that’s important rather than pointing the finger in terms of chemistry going forward.
The Lakers will host the Orlando Magic (28-42) on Sunday, the first of four more home games before leaving LA for four road games.
Time is running out for this Lakers team. The overcrowded West kept them in, but Friday reminded me of other near misses, like when Davis missed late free throws in an overtime loss in Philadelphia or when he missed another free throw in the last minute and Indiana won at the buzzer with a 3 from almost the exact spot on the floor where Kleber launched his.
The Lakers have dug themselves out of a hole since their 2-10 start out of the gates. Just when it looked like they had some breathing room winning six out of eight after the All-Star break, they’ve now lost three out of four and are sliding backwards at the worst possible time.
“We’re definitely missing our opportunities. It’s frustrating,” Davis said.
But he added: “We are still able to do something special, with the way we started.”