Isaiah Thomas drives against the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 10, 2018.
(Danny Bollinger/Getty Images)

Defense Costs Lakers Win Despite Offensive Eruption

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Defense was the key to the Lakers’ four-game winning streak. Defense was the reason it ended.

The Lakers had been smothering opponents during their surge, but went into matador mode in Dallas, allowing the Mavericks to score their most points of the season and capture a 130-123 win.

“We stopped communicating,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “I’m not sure why, but it was simple things we’ve been doing well. Things we’ve been doing all year long we stopped doing tonight.”

Walton and his players all pointed to miscommunication, particularly on switches that allowed the Mavericks easy buckets at the rim.

That inability to get stops wasted a flame-throwing offensive performance that saw the Lakers (23-32) shoot 54.8 percent from the field — even better than Dallas (18-38) — and hit a season-high 16 3-pointers.

One of the focal points was Isaiah Thomas, who made his Lakers debut about 24 hours after meeting his new teammates.

Thomas — who was acquired at the trade deadline on Thursday — studied the Lakers’ playbook on his iPad the night before, but stuck to a simplified version of the offense on his first day at work.

“I like the pace of this team, I like the energy the guys bring,” Thomas said. “Coach (Walton) did the best job he could to put me in position to play to my strengths while only knowing a couple plays.”

It was a successful debut for a player who had missed most of this season due to a hip injury. Thomas scored 22 points — more than in 14 of his 15 games with Cleveland this year — and handed out six assists.

He was particularly effective early on, scoring 16 points in the first half while hitting all four of his 3-pointers. Thomas continuously stung Dallas out of pick-and-rolls and did a nice job spotting up from deep.

“He brings another dimension to what we have,” Walton said. “He’s able to control pick-and-rolls like that and get people shots. We couldn’t run a ton of stuff because he’s been with us for one day, but he was good.”

It wasn’t all roses for Thomas, who also had six turnovers and had nearly as many second-half fouls (five) as points (six).

The Mavericks also tried to exploit him on the defensive end by trying to get him switched onto their bigs. They had mixed success against the 5-foot-9 Thomas, who gave up a few baskets but also made some stops on players that towered over him.

Thomas’ new teammates also had big nights on offense.

Julius Randle overwhelmed the Mavs’ bigs for a game-high 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting. The Dallas native also hustled and made plays for others with eight rebounds and seven assists, but committed five turnovers and fouled out late.

Meanwhile, Brandon Ingram had one of the best shooting nights yet, hitting a career-high four 3-pointers on only five attempts. Ingram — who has successfully been letting it fly in recent weeks — also hit a couple mid-range jumpers on his way to 22 points.

Brook Lopez had a nice night in the post with 16 points and five assists. Kyle Kuzma struggled toward 12 points on 12 shots, but dominated the glass with 15 rebounds.

Yet all these impressive individual performances couldn’t mask the Lakers’ poor play on the other side of the court.

Dirk Nowitzki took full advantage, as the 39-year-old scored a season-high 22 points and splashed all four of his shots from 3-point range. Harrison Barnes added 21 points and J.J. Barea directed with nine assists.

The Lakers appeared to be surging toward victory when they embarked on a late 13-4 run (keyed by six points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) to take a 118-117 lead with about five minutes left.

But Dallas inserted 7-foot-1 center Salah Mejri, who completely altered the equation defensively. With the Mavericks’ best rim protector patrolling the paint, L.A.’s offense finally stalled.

Meanwhile, Dallas ended the contest on a 13-5 run, snapping the Lakers’ streak.

Channing Frye (who was acquired in the same trade as Thomas) suited up, but did not play. … Seven of the Lakers’ 17 turnovers came in the fourth quarter. Dallas only had 11. … The Lakers led by as many as 11. … A sold-out crowd of 20,162 filled American Airlines Center.

#ThatSLOWgrind: Engaged

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