Kyle Kuzma

Lakers rise to the challenge, rout Mavs and win 7th straight

by Rodrigo Azurmendi
Staff Writer

Next man up.

Despite dealing with Anthony Davis’ absence and LeBron James’ illness, the Lakers completed one of their best games of the season, defeating the Mavericks on the road and clinching the season series.

If pressure creates diamonds, Frank Vogel has himself a whole jewelry store.

“I don’t think people understand how deep we are,” said Jared Dudley. “I was starting playoff games last year and now I’m 14th, 15th man.”

Don’t let the final score fool you either. Friday night’s was probably the toughest double-digit victory this team has racked up all year.

LeBron James led the Lakers to a 24-9 lead, but quickly gestured for a breather. JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard were active early, but soon found themselves in foul trouble.

None of it mattered in an explosive first half – the Lakers’ best since they also scored 79 points against the San Antonio Spurs in March of 1979.

Yes, L.A. went to the locker room up by 21 – coincidentally the same amount of points scored by Kyle Kuzma up to that point.

Kuzma, starting in place of AD, finished with 26 and six boards.

“He came and set the tone offensively,” Dudley said.

James, meanwhile, had one of his usual otherworldly games. LBJ poured in 35 points with 16 boards and seven dimes.

And if the flu didn’t stop him, the Mavericks didn’t stand a chance.

In fact, the one factor that threatened the Lakers’ lead in the second half was foul trouble.

Both Howard and McGee reached 5 fouls midway through the third, forcing Vogel to get creative.

Enter Jared Dudley. And Alex Caruso. And Danny Green playing the ‘4’.

“I would’ve been out of the league a long time ago if it was just about scoring,” Dudley added. “People have to realize, young generations, for me it’s positioning, knowing the players out there what they’re allowed to do. Luka (Doncic), we were sending him right the whole time. But for me it was, ‘hey, stay in front, take Luka’s 3-ball away and don’t foul.”

Dallas got within 10 with 3:36 to go, coinciding with LeBron’s time to rest. And what could’ve been the perfect opportunity to crumble turned into an impassioned last stand by the unsung heroes of the bench.

Caruso-Dudley-Green alongside Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo actually managed to stretch the lead to 13 at the end of the period. Then, with James back in for the beginning of the fourth, a quick 7-0 run essentially sealed the win.

And besides any individual performance, the team proved to be better than the sum of its parts, committing just seven turnovers and holding the league’s most potent offense to 40.6% from the field.

“It was a next man up type of thing,” Vogel said.

Luka Doncic? 25 points on 19 shots. The rebounding battle? 49-47 in favor of the purple and gold despite a massive size disadvantage during long stretches of the game. Bench production? 48-43 for L.A.

On to OKC with another seven-game winning streak in the bag.

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