LOS ANGELES — Over and over again, sitting in front of his locker after the game, Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis reiterated how hard it was to endure Friday night’s 111-110 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at the buzzer.
Tough because his closeout wasn’t enough of a deterrent to stop Mavs forward Maxi Kleber from draining the game-winning 3 with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. Tough because Kleber’s shot was preceded by Davis going 1-for-2 from the foul line with 6.7 seconds left, failing to give LA a three-point cushion that would have at least gotten Kleber’s shot to force overtime instead of winning it outright.
Hard because just before that with 7.2 seconds left, with the Lakers leading by four, Davis fouled Kleber on a 3-point attempt and Kleber drained all three free throws to bring Dallas within one.
“I already came in and told them that last game was my fault,” said Davis, who has taken the blame for a loss twice in the Lakers’ past four games, the other loss coming in Houston when he had to sit out due to a long-term foot injury.
And tough, Davis said, because on a night when four other teams surrounding LA in the standings — Golden State, Minnesota, New Orleans and Portland — all lost, the Lakers failed to capitalize.
“It’s tough all the way across the board,” Davis said after his 26 points and 10 rebounds came to nothing.
Instead, all the momentum swung to the Mavs. Playing on the road without Luka Doncic and welcoming Kyrie Irving back to the lineup after a three-game absence due to right foot soreness, the Mavs came in and took it.
The win moved Dallas to No. 6 in the Western Conference at 36-35, and they won the season series against LA 2-1.
The Lakers are No. 10 in the West at 34-37, two full games behind Dallas with 11 games to play, but it might as well be three games because the Mavs now own the tiebreaker.
As painful a night as it was for Davis, it was just as exciting for Kleber, who nearly cost the Mavs a game in San Antonio on Wednesday by throwing a full-court inbounds pass out of bounds with 1.8 seconds left in regulation and then blowing an assignment to free up Keldon Johnson for a lob to send it to OT.
Kleber said during a courtside interview after the game that Irving — who scored 38 points and had the assist to Kleber on the final shot — told him, “It’s redemption” for the near debacle in San Antonio.
Wenyen Gabriel, who had nine points and 11 rebounds off the bench and was instrumental in erasing a 14-point Dallas lead to help put LA in position to win, also offered uplifting support for Davis.
“I mean, AD is our leader,” Gabriel said of Davis putting the blame on his shoulders. “He’s our best player right now and it just shows that we take responsibility as being the best player. It’s something that’s important for continuity as a team and trusting each other, and of course we trust AD. That was just a moment. It’s obviously not just on AD, but him taking responsibility for it is something that’s important instead of pointing fingers in terms of chemistry going forward.”
The Lakers host the Orlando Magic (28-42) on Sunday, the first of four more home games before leaving LA for four road games.
Time is running out for this Lakers team. The crowded West has kept them in it, but Friday brought to mind other near misses, like when Davis missed late free throws in an overtime loss at Philadelphia or when he missed another free throw in the final minute and Indiana won at the buzzer with a 3 from almost the exact same spot on the floor that Kleber sent his.
The Lakers have dug themselves out of a hole ever since their 2-10 start out of the gates. Just when it looked like they had a breather, winning six of eight after the All-Star break, they’ve now lost three of four and are sliding backwards at the worst possible time.
“We’re missing our opportunities, for sure. It’s frustrating,” Davis said.
But he added: “We’re still able to do something special with the way we started.”