Every game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks this season seems to end the same way: purple and gold heartbreak. When they faced off on Christmas, Dallas outscored Los Angeles by 30 points in the worst quarter of the season for the Lakers. In the January rematch, Dallas won a controversial, double-overtime thriller that featured. When Dallas jumped out to a 48-21 lead in the second quarter of the rivalry’s third installment of the season on Sunday, it looked as though the Lakers were heading for a similar fate.
And then a couple of shots started falling. A 27-point lead was trimmed to 14 at the half. The defense clamped down after that, holding Dallas to just 20 points in the third quarter and cutting the lead down to only three. And in the final period? The stars were the difference. LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 18 points as Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving melted down. With 18 seconds remaining, a Doncic turnover with the Mavericks trailing by three effectively sealed the comeback. The Lakers defeated the Mavericks, 111-108.
The comeback was historic on several levels. It was the biggest of the season across the entire NBA, as teams entered Sunday with a record of 0-138 when traveling by 27 or more. It was also the biggest Lakers comeback in 20 years. The last bigger one came in 2002 when the Lakers overcame a 30-point deficit against, ironically enough, the Dallas Mavericks.
But perhaps most importantly, it was proof of concept for the new-look Lakers. Los Angeles won this game despite making 14 fewer 3-pointers than Dallas. That made their victory the first in NBA history in which the winning team made six or fewer 3-pointers while the losing team made 20 or more.
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The Lakers have been among the NBA’s worst shooting teams throughout the season. Even after the trade deadline, they remain toward the bottom of the league. But the difference between “worst in the league” bad and “garden variety” bad was incredibly meaningful on Sunday. The Lakers may not have been making their shots, but their shooters were respected enough to warrant defensive attention. That opened up the floor enough to outscore Dallas 62-32 in the paint.
The Lakers want to win games in the paint. They finally have the personnel to do it. Their approach didn’t change when they fell behind by 27 points. They played their game for 48 minutes, and when the clock hit zero, they had more points than their opponent. With four wins in their five post-deadline games, that’s becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence. The Lakers didn’t just pick up a historic win on Sunday, but the biggest of their season by far. If they keep playing like this, the sky is going to be the limit over the final two months of the regular season.