Once again, the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves in a close game down the stretch. This time, though it wasn’t against a playoff team they’d been neck-and-neck with all game. Wednesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, their late-game struggles very nearly cost them a win despite having lead comfortably from the very beginning of the game.
As LeBron James walked off the court, he spoke to Mike Trudell of Spectrum Sportsnet about the team’s continued late collapses.
“We took our foot off the gas and allowed them to get back into it. That started getting into a great rhythm in the fourth quarter and they made it a game.”
Los Angeles watched an eight-point lead vanish completely in about a minute before James was fouled by Wesley Matthews and hit one of two free-throws to save the Lakers from an utterly embarrassing loss.
When asked about what might be causing some of these struggles, James said it all comes down to experience.
Well they (the Lakers' young core) haven’t been in moments like this, much and (don’t) know how to execute down the stretch, but this is the best way to teach them. It’s the best way for all of us to learn together is to be in these fights, be in these battles — and we’ve had a few of them already in this season.
The point James is making is mostly fair, though it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t the first time any of the young Lakers have ever been in close games. They were in them quite often last year. Where the statement could be tweaked is to say this is the first time they’re in those situations with actual expectations — or that this is the first time this specific collection of Lakers have been in close games together.
Either way, the point mostly stands. The Lakers have to get better at both maintaining or extending leads to put teams away when possible, or executing down the stretch of close games. If they aren’t able to do either, this season could wind up being insanely frustrating.
Fortunately for all involved, this learning experience didn’t come in a loss. A win is still a win, and given how few victories the Lakers have come by so far, they’ll take them any way they’ll come.