The bright, yellow court the Lakers played on Tuesday inside their home arena was a signal to their fans that the game was special, part of something bigger, the in-season tournament created to inject life into the dreary stretch of the season between opening night and Christmas.
Wednesday, that floor was packed away, the team playing a regular old basketball game for a prize that’s more than a half-year away.
Turns out those can be kinda good too.
Facing Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, two of the most skilled and dangerous guards in the NBA, the Lakers fell behind by 20, the second night of a back-to-back wearing on their legs as they got outraced to virtually every loose ball.
But as the Lakers picked up steam in the second half, the crowd began to rock, riding a wild comeback that put them ahead in the final minute.
Irving, often rumored to be a target of the Lakers, drilled an open three and LeBron James’ pass to Anthony Davis at the rim missed its mark, helping the Mavericks squeak out a 104-101 win in a wildly entertaining game.
James had a chance to tie at the buzzer, but his three-point shot in front of the Dallas bench hit the front of the rim.
Doncic and Irving combined for 58 points — including all 13 for Dallas in the fourth quarter — as the Mavericks (10-5) managed to stave off the Lakers (9-7).
During the comeback, Austin Reaves and James hit big shots while Davis led the charge on the defensive glass. James finished with 26 points and Reaves 17, but Davis managed only 10.
The Lakers got good news when imaging didn’t reveal a serious groin injury for Cam Reddish, but they still were without their best perimeter defender.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter, when the Lakers outscored Dallas by 17, that the team fully found its footing.
However, the Lakers went scoreless on their final three possessions, with a pair of missed threes by James sandwiching his turnover on the pass to Davis.