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The Mavericks should have never let Sunday’s match with the Los Angeles Lakers come down to the final possessions.

But when their 27-point lead evaporated, it did. And the Lakers knew exactly what crucial challenge the Mavericks were facing.

New team with new key players. Tense situation.

The Lakers know the drill. And they also know it’s easier said than done when it comes to clutch-time execution in that situation.

“I was just trying to speed him up and make the catch tough,” said Lakers’ newcomer Jarred Vanderbilt. “Those guys are still trying to figure out what they’re doing at the end of games, too.


“They’re a new team, or a new backcourt, as well. We were just trying to speed them up, cause a little chaos and indecision. And I think we were able to do that.”

The Mavericks were trailing 108-105 with 18 seconds remaining. After having a 27-point lead in the second quarter, it was a difficult spot to be in.

But not impossible.

But the inbounds pass went awry. Kyrie Irving led Luka Dončić with a pass near the midcourt line. Luka swatted it back into the front court. He later said it was his mistake not realizing he could go into the backcourt to retrieve the inbound pass.

But it sabotaged any chance the Mavericks had of making a late rally.

And it may have signified a turning point for the Lakers, who have been mostly underachieving this season, but made a major trade before the deadline, much like the Mavericks.

Since that deal that brought in Vanderbilt, DeAngelo Russell and Malik Beasley, the Lakers (29-32) have won four of five and now are looking a little more dangerous than they before the All-Star break.

“It could be,” coach Darvin Ham said of whether this game might be viewed as a turning point for the Lakers. “We knew going into the break after our last game we encouraged everybody to get some rest, but knowing that when we come out of this break, we got to be ready to get busy and really start forcing our will, so to speak, on the rest of this season so that we can secure a spot and get where we need to get to. And you’re witnessing the process of that.”

One thing that could derail such a turnaround would be injuries and the Lakers had a scare when LeBron James fell to the floor holding his right foot. He needed a couple minutes, but stayed in the game and finished it with 26 points and eight rebounds.

Afterward, he was limping noticeably on the way to the Lakers’ bus.

“It’s been better, that’s for sure,” he said of his foot postgame. “But I definitely wasn’t going to go to the locker room without finishing the game out. (With) the momentum we had, I felt like we could steal one after being down. We’ll monitor the next couple days, see how it feels and go from there.”

Finding different ways: The Lakers won despite missing their first 15 three-point tries and shooting just 32 percent in the first half.

In the second half, they outrebounded the Mavericks 30-17 and outscored them 64-47.

“We’re in a good place,” James said. “We’re going to try to continue that. We have the ability to now look at ways we can be good. If we can’t shoot it well, we can still get the ball popping, but we need to get the ball in the paint and get offensive rebounds when we’re not shooting well. To have that ability to say, OK, if we’re not shooting well, we can still be in the game, we can still be productive, that’s the key for our ballclub.”

Said Ham: “I just think we (wore) them down with our aggressiveness, going to the basket. Really living in the paint, forcing them to play a more physical game than they probably wanted to.

“And we only made six threes, they made 20 and we still came up with the W. The 62 points in the paint, that was huge.”

Injury update: Maxi Kleber and Davis Bertans remain sidelined, but both are trending in the right direction, Kidd said before Sunday’s game.

“Maxi and Davis are still out, but improving,” he said. “They did great with the stuff they’re working on. We’ll see at practice tomorrow (Monday) if they continue to keep improving. Hopefully on the home stand they get to play.”

There are four more opportunities on this stay at American Airlines Center for them to return, including Tuesday against Rick Carlisle’s Indiana Pacers.

Kleber has been out since mid-December with a right hamstring injury. Bertans suffered a left calf strain on Feb. 2 and has missed the last nine games.

“He just started to do some stuff,” Kidd said of Bertans. “He’s shooting the ball. As we go here this week, I can give you a little more concrete detail of when they’ll be back.”

Ones that got away: Here’s the list of biggest leads that the Mavericks have lost in franchise history.

Margin   Opp.             Date               Score       Time               Final

30   @ Toronto       12/22/2019     85-55     2:32, third       107-110

30   @ LA Lakers   12/6/2002       66-36    11:20, third      103-105

27    Phoenix            3/2/1997         85-58    3:09, third       108-109 (OT)

27    LA Lakers        2/26/2023   …48-21    7:08, second    108-111


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