No Anthony Davis, no problem. Or at least that’s how things appeared in the first half, when the Lakers scored a season-high 45 points in the first quarter and led 79-58 at halftime, scoring their most points in a first half since 1989.
Then, in the third quarter, the tides shifted. Dallas started off hot, while JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard both picked up their fifth fouls, a combination of factors that allowed the Mavericks to cut the Lakers’ lead to just 10. A small rally gave L.A. a 13-point lead heading into the final frame as the fanbase collectively gulped. Would this be another night where the Lakers would make things harder than they needed to?
No. With a small lineup featuring Jared Dudley at center and LeBron James at the four, the Lakers rallied, holding off the Mavericks, increasing the lead back to 20 and ultimately leaving Dallas with a 129-114 win.
On a day newly named vice president, basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka was in attendance, the Lakers showed him the rewards of the depth he put this roster together with. Despite some hiccups, the production of guys like Dudley who don’t normally get a ton of minutes — along with other role players helping shoulder the load of the loss of Davis (especially Howard and McGee with their early dominance in the paint to help build the lead) — showed that this team can be really special when it needs to be.
As a starter, Kyle Kuzma had the breakout game so many have been asking for from him, showing his explosive scoring skills while dropping 19 points in the first half and finishing with 26 points on 22 shots. He looked visibly more comfortable playing more minutes with LeBron James — who passed Michael Jordan for fourth in career made field goals on Friday night, but also showed his dominance as a playmaker — and made it clear that pairing is something Vogel should try to make happen more when James is playing with the reserves.
The Lakers’ coaches and players also have to be credited for another excellent defensive showing against Luka Doncic. The 20-year-old taking the league by storm was limited in the second straight game by Los Angeles’ pressure and ball denial, getting frustrated enough to rip his own jersey open in the first half before finishing the game with 25 points on 8-19 shooting with 6 turnovers.
This win moves the Lakers to 31-7, and they’ve now won seven in a row. They’ll look to make it eight tomorrow when they take on the Thunder in Oklahoma City on the second night of this road back-to-back. It remains to be seen if they’ll have Davis, but encouragingly, tonight at least showed that they can afford to let him rest if he needs it. This team can’t reach it’s ceiling without Davis, but they’re good enough to win a few regular season games — even against good teams — if he has to rest and recover.