After being down by as many as 15, Los Angeles rallied late in the third to take a one-point lead heading into the fourth but failed to complete the comeback in the game's closing minutes.
Many factors resulted in the loss, but the biggest one has to be the anomaly of Dante Exum's performance.
DANTE EXUM SPLASH.— NBA (@NBA) December 13, 2023
He has 17 PTS in the 4Q
Lakers-Mavs | Live on TNT pic.twitter.com/koRc38GUn5
The Dallas shooting guard had the performance of his career, hitting seven of his nine 3-point attempts. Heading into the game, he had only made eight all season. He didn't just pepper this performance throughout the game. He made the shots when it mattered, scoring 17 of his 26 points in the fourth.
Postgame, LeBron James commended Exum's performance against the purple and gold.
"You have a game plan and you live with the results," James said. "Dante had a career night from the 3-point line and you tip your hat."
When game planning against Dallas, the concept is simple but hard to execute. Stop Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić from going off and force someone else to beat you. With no Irving, that just left Dončić to worry about and while he did have a productive game, scoring 33 points, it didn't feel dominant. Simply put, the Lakers lost because a role player had a career night.
Darvin Ham explained the strategy and Exum making the most of his opportunity in his postgame presser.
"Defense at this level in this league is more than, like, trying to take things away from people," Ham said. "What goes hand-in-hand with that is what you're willing to live with. In an attempt to put extra bodies in front of Luka, you just decide who you're going to play a little bit heavier off of. And, hell, these guys are pros. You go by the numbers, the trends, what's been happening up to this point in the season and those numbers told us that Dante (Exum) could be a heavy shift guy. But he's a pro. He's a hell of a player and tonight was his night."
It's frustrating to contain Dončić and waste a 37-point performance from Anthony Davis on the road, but you have to give respect when respect is due. It was Exum's night, and he may never play that well again, but against the Lakers, he rose to the challenge and took advantage of his opportunities.
The biggest takeaway for Los Angeles in this loss is improving their defending of the 3-point shot. The Lakers currently allow 37.1 3-point attempts a game, the seventh most in the NBA, according to NBA.com. So, while the Lakers' defense has looked elite at times, this area needs improvement if they don't want to get into shootouts with the best teams in the league.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.