Lakers Survive Luka Doncic-Led Rally, Free-Throw Misadventures to Beat Mavs

The Lakers' starters bought them an early lead that they clung to for dear life in a close win over the Mavs.
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LOS ANGELES — The Lakers nearly ran the Mavericks out of the gym in the first quarter, and then they spent the rest of the evening hanging onto their lead for dear life.

L.A. improved to 3-5 with a 114-113 victory that featured a near-collapse in the fourth quarter. LeBron James finished with a game-high 29 points, including the game-winning free throw, while adding five rebounds and six assists in 39 minutes. 

Here are three quick-hitting thoughts from L.A.’s scary Halloween night.

Lakers’ starting lineup pours it on early.

Luke Walton’s latest starting lineup—which features James, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and JaVale McGee—couldn’t miss in the first quarter, opening a 29-12 lead before the first substitution. This configuration is a compromise in that it allows L.A. to start big and get both of its top complementary scorers, Kuzma and Ingram, early minutes with James.

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The front-loading strategy worked well Wednesday, as all five L.A. starters finished in double figures and Dallas’s starting lineup appeared overwhelmed at times by the Lakers’ length and athleticism.

LeBron James endures another foul-line misadventure.

Earlier this month, James missed a pair of late-game free throws during an overtime loss to the Spurs. In the closing seconds against the Mavericks, the four-time MVP again found himself on the free-throw line with the game on the line. James missed his first free throw, drawing groans from an anxious crowd that had just watched L.A. concede a 13-1 late-game run and a game-tying runner to Luka Doncic. It didn’t help Staples Center’s collective nerve that Kuzma had also missed a free throw with less than 20 seconds remaining.

James knocked down the second attempt, though, and L.A. dodged a bullet at the buzzer to avoid what would have been a disheartening loss to say the least.

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Luka Doncic’s rollercoaster night

Doncic, the Mavericks’ prized rookie playmaker, was slow to start on Wednesday. The Slovenian “Wonder Boy” missed his six shots and didn’t score until the 5-minute mark of the third quarter, when he dropped in a pretty floater. James appeared to pick on Doncic by isolating against him multiple times early in the game, but Doncic drew a charge and got a late stop against his idol in the second half.

Down the stretch, Doncic turned it up offensively, draining multiple three-pointers, finding DeAndre Jordan for a transition dunk and then draining a game-tying runner before James won it at the line. He finished with a respectable 14 points, five rebounds and seven assists, in a line that masked how poor he played early on. If the Mavericks intend on winning rather than tanking this season, their best bet is to reduce Dennis Smith Jr.’s role so that Doncic has more touches and playmaking opportunities. Smith was a -29 in 23 minutes on Wednesday.