Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel joked before Thursday’s game with the Dallas Mavericks that they were thinking about “kidnapping him” as a strategy.
Vogel is probably regretting that he took kidnapping off the table after the Lakers fell to the Mavericks, 115-110, Thursday night at the American Airlines Center.
That strategy might have helped.
Luka Doncic, even with a slow start to the game, finished with 30 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, and three steals as the Mavericks won back-to-back matches for the first time since April 3 and 5 against Washington and Utah.
Thursday evening marked Doncic's 41st game with at least 25 points, best in the NBA. It was also his third straight game with at least 30 points.
The Mavs (32-26) moved into a tie for sixth place in the Western Conference with the Portland Trail Blazers. With Portland though owning the tiebreaker, Dallas still has work to do to stay out of the playoff tournament, reserved for the teams that finish in the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth places in each conference.
“Yeah, of course, we’re trying to get that sixth spot, or maybe more, and avoid the play-in game,” Doncic told TNT after the game. “That’s what we’re trying to do — win every game.”
The Mavs needed every bit they got from Doncic, who had a scoreless first quarter.
The evening began with the anticipated return of Lakers' big man Anthony Davis. His presence really didn’t help the Lakers on Thursday night. While Davis entered the matchup, Mavs center Kristaps Porzingis left the game in the third quarter with a rolled left ankle.
Porzingis carried the Mavs in the first quarter, finishing with 19 points and six rebounds.
The significance of Porzingis’ injury will certainly influence the coming 14 games for Dallas, a stretch run with three back-to-back games and no more than a day off between any of those games.
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The Lakers (35-24) made it difficult on the Mavs after falling behind by 11 at the half. While Davis had no impact, the same couldn’t be said for Dennis Schroder, Andre Drummond, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The trio triggered a big run for the Lakers in the third quarter, sparking a comeback that saw Los Angeles take the lead as part of a 19-6 run.
Schroder and Drummond each had double-doubles before the end of the third quarter. The Lakers hung in there, cutting a double-digit Dallas to lead to as little as four points on two occasions late in the fourth quarter.
But, Doncic was, well, Doncic.
In helping Dallas close out the win. But he had help. Josh Richardson finished with 13 points, Willie Cauley-Stein did a fine job filing in for Porzingis with 11 points and eight rebounds. Guard J.J. Redick came off the bench and scored seven points. Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith each had 10 points.
Schroder had 25 points and 13 assists, while Drummond had 14 points and 19 rebounds. Caldwell-Pope finished with 29 points, including a 6-of-12 night from the 3-point line.
The first half was marked by the return of Davis, who had missed the previous 30 games with a calf injury. The Lakers announced before the game that Davis would play just 15 minutes and would only play in the first half. Well, officially,
Davis squeezed out an additional two minutes over his limit, but he had no impact. He finished with two points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. He watched the second half in warm-ups from the bench.
Doncic’s impact in the first quarter was minimal, too. He played just five minutes, acquired two fouls and didn’t score a point while Porzingis dominated with 11 points. The Mavs built a five-point lead at the end of the first quarter, and when Doncic returned in the second quarter he blew up.
By halftime, Doncic had 13 points, along with six assists, four rebounds, and a steal. Porzingis had 15 points and five rebounds by the break, and Dallas had a 62-51 lead at halftime.
Along with Doncic and Porzingis, two other things helped Dallas in the first half. First, the Mavs were 16-of-22 from the free-throw line (the Lakers were 11-of-14 by that point). Second, the Mavs shot 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from the 3-point line, while the Lakers kept up from the floor (44.2 percent) but were way off from the arc (20 percent), with Caldwell-Pope the Lakers’ only reliable 3-point shooter in the contest.
And in the end, the Mavs survived ... and climbed.
"Our guys are aware of the standings and aware of the positioning,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "But we’ve got to focus on playing our game to the best of our ability.”
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard