In one of the low moments of this Lakers season, the ball crossed the court to a spot behind the three-point line over the left elbow and Andrew Nembhard scored the game-winner.
That was on November 28, a game the Lakers wanted to forget.
They’ll think about it.
“It’s like Indiana all over again,” said a disappointed Darvin Ham.
With a chance to gain precious ground in the Western Conference playoff race, the Lakers again saw defeat with a last-second 3-pointer from that very spot, this one with Maxi Kleber delivering the shot on Friday night.
“It sucks to say the least,” Austin Reaves said.
He 111-110 loss Friday would have been miserable enough on its own, but with the team just losing in Houston with Anthony Davis out as a precaution due to his foot injury earlier this year, the Lakers are officially moving in the wrong direction.
It’s the first time the Lakers have lost back-to-back games in more than a month.
“If you don’t mind losing games that are really significant, what’s the point of playing?” Reaves said.
The Lakers have been clear in their strategy over the past month, prioritizing health over standings. With no holds barred, no back-to-back games stopping anyone, on Friday, the Lakers had a chance.
Playing against the Mavericks, a team that is a game ahead of them in the classification Going into Friday’s game, the Lakers had a chance to make a real move. Minnesota, Golden State, New Orleans and Portland all lostgiving the team a precious opportunity to gain ground.
They didn’t take it.
After trailing as many as 14 points, the Lakers battled back to lead by five in the quarter before the Mavericks rallied.
Three free throws by Kleber (after Davis fouled him on a 3-pointer) turned the game to a point in the final minute.
Davis then split two free throws to give the Mavericks a chance to win or tie.
There would be no overtime, the Lakers forced the ball out of the hands of Kyrie Irving, but Kleber stepped in and waved the shot as the buzzer sounded.
Davis finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds and five other Lakers scored at least 10 on a night in which the team was outscored by Irving and the Mavericks from three-point range.
Dallas made 11 more 3-pointers than the Lakers, who also missed 12 free throws to just four for the Mavericks, who were without Luka Doncic.
Irving scored 38 to lead Dallas.
After the loss, which brought the Lakers to the slightest lead for the final play-in spot ahead of Utah, the Lakers said they need to play as a team that needs everyone.
But with the restrictions on whether Davis can play back-to-back, that’s obviously more difficult to achieve.
That strategy comes at a cost, and it’s one that Western Conference teams seem willing to pay.
By emphasizing potential postseason health over regular season victories, teams like the Lakers, Clippers and Mavericks are potentially sacrificing critical games in a jam-packed playoff run.
It’s not completely off the radar. At shootaround Friday, Dennis Schroder told reporters that he had his eyes on one specific spot, outside of the gatehouse.
“I think where we are as a group right now, I think the chemistry is in a perfect place,” Schroder said. “Like I said, we just have to try to get the No. 6 seed, that’s our goal and our desire. And then go from there.
Still, the No. 6 seed would open the playoffs on the road.
Ham, who has more than 25 years of experience in the NBA as a player and coach, has seen a shift toward fitness becoming top of mind for teams heading into the postseason.
“I don’t think it’s completely changed, but I do think health takes precedence over (seeding),” Ham said before Friday’s game. “…And the playoffs, I don’t want to say they’re overrated, but you’re going to have to win away from home at some point to be world champions, so you just have to be solid, healthy, confident and playing. in a good rhythm.
“And no matter where you play, you give yourself a chance. But just having home court, I’ve seen teams multiple times, many, many postseasons have home court advantage and it doesn’t matter, because they gave up those home games.”
However, history says that teams that have to fight uphill in the playoffs are at a tremendous disadvantage.
The 1995 Houston Rockets are the lowest-ranked team to win a title after starting those playoffs sixth in the West.
The 1999 New York Knicks reached the Finals as the eighth seed in a lockout-shortened season.
The Lakers’ seeding hopes aren’t individually tied to whether or not Davis is on the court in back-to-back games (the Lakers are playing the Jazz and Clippers in their last back-to-back game of the year).
LeBron James continues to make progress, and Schroder says he’s seen James go through multiple daily workouts in an effort to come back.
Getting him back with time still on the season clock would be a huge boost.
Before the game, Ham warned that the team should not look at the standings or set specific win/loss targets in their last twelve games.
“Each game is its own entity, and we need to approach it that way,” Ham said. “Making sure to maximize and making sure every day to improve as much as we can while still trying to reach our goal. But you only have to take them one at a time.
“We can’t get overwhelmed where we have 12 left and we have to get to that number (of wins), and you start to overlook things. Our priority has been to stay in the moment and take them one at a time.”
On Friday, however, it was the Mavericks who took him.