If the previous six weeks looked as if they were too good to be true, it’s because they were.
The outcome that struck the Lakers on Sunday was as deflating as Luka Doncic’s three-pointer, the 114-100 defeat of the Dallas Mavericks at the Staples Center confirming their record was more a representation of their soft schedule than their collective abilities.
And now, following the loss that ended the 10-game winning streak, the question remains: how good are they?
The answer is still a mystery. Almost all that can be said with certainty is that they are decent, but not 17-2 perfect, or even 17-3 good.
“We should play better,” James admitted.
The Lakers are 3-3 against the winning teams. They played against the sub-.500 teams, their entire winning streak focused on defeating the losing teams.
There’s something to say about that. Squashing bad teams is what good teams are doing.
But as much emphasis as the Lakers have kept, as much dedication to defense as they have shown, they are beaten.
The Mavericks have shown how.
They weren’t able to beat the Lakers inside — with Anthony Davis, who can? they crushed them from the outside.
49 three-pointers were shot. Previous opponents of the Lakers have tried an average of 32.6. The Mavericks drew 36 shots from behind the arc when the Lakers beat them last month in Dallas.
The change was attributed to Doncic, who reaffirmed his MVP award by finishing with 27 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.
The game was a reminder of the degree to which James is leading the Lakers. He started as if he had been abducted, robbing Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis and converting a slam to a 6-2 lead.
Minutes later, James stole a Doncic pass and helped Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on a dunk to raise the lead to 11-5.
In the opening period, James had three of his four robberies, in which the Lakers led by ten on three occasions. But only 62-59 went into half-time ahead, a testament to Maverick’s three-point accuracy.
Then the third quarter was over.
“We didn’t have the opposite pop for the whole quarter,” Vogel said.
The Mavericks opened the second half with a 9-0 run and went up by as many as 20 points.
James scored only two points during the period. Davis had five of them. The third option for scoring never appeared.
But equally important was how Doncic and the Mavericks broke down the defense of the Lakers. Besides scoring 16 points in the quarter, Doncic had five assists as the Mavericks made four of 11 three-point attempts as the Lakers crashed on the 20-year-old star.
“We were just a slow move, running around to the three-point shooters, and then when you’re moving as much as we are, it leaves you prone to the rim,” Vogel said.
The Mavericks had 23 second-game points in the game. The Lakers had 10 of them.
“Yesterday, our coverage was bad,” Davis said. “We haven’t rebounded the basketball so we’re still giving them second-chance points and they’ve made us pay with threes.” Sunday marked the start of a remarkable tough month for the Lakers. It was the first of 10 games that the Lakers will play in December against teams that have better records than 1,500.
“We’re not going to get down on a loss,” Davis said. “We know the type of team that we are.” Or, more precisely, the type of team that the Lakers think they are.
The next three-game ride will be insightful. The Lakers will compete in Philadelphia on Tuesdays, Utah on Wednesdays and Seattle on Fridays.
Their season is about to start in earnest, and they’re about to learn who they are.