Considering the ditch they’ve sat in the last few years, you couldn’t blame the Los Angeles Lakers if they might have settled for a middle-of-the-road rebound this season.
That’s one small step for the organization, one giant leap for Jack Nicholson.
The thing is, the Lakers came in expecting big things after adding Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis to team with LeBron James. When you have three of the best players in the league on your side – well, maybe two – you can’t settle for mediocrity.
So after Sunday’s blah 114-100 loss to the Mavericks at Staples Center, the Lakers did not just shrug their shoulders and pass it off at as another day at the office. They refocused. Just like the old days.
“Our whole thing is we don’t want to lose two in a row,” Davis said. “Ever.”
This loss snapped a 10-game winning streak that has placed it among the league’s hierarchy. And now the Lakers want to make sure they stop the losing in its tracks.
If you’re looking for a reason why the Lakers played so poorly against the Mavs, you should know Davis and James weren’t feeling 100 percent. They aren’t injured. They just woke up not feeling right. And in the NBA, it’s hard to call the boss and say you’re taking a sick day.
If Davis is guilty of unnecessarily fretting, he does have good reason: His team will approach Christmas playing eight of their next 11 games on the road, beginning Tuesday night in Denver.
“You don’t know until you [strive for it],” James said of not wanting to lose two straight at any point. “Realistic is the mindset. It’s not about [accepting that] sometimes you lose games in a row. Just having that mindset and that approach.”
So far, so good: After losing to the Clippers on Opening Night, the Lakers won seven straight. Then they followed a loss on Nov. 10 to the defending champion Raptors by peeling off the 10-game run. They won 14 games in November, the first time they did that since 2000.
“We’re not going to get down over this loss,” Davis said. “We know the type of team we are.”
Still, there might be some reason to let the season play out a little farther before anointing the Lakers as the favorite to win the West.
The Mavericks were the first team play the Lakers with a winning record since the loss to the Raptors. The Lakers are 14-0 against sub-.500 teams and 3-3 against the better ones.
Oh, well. Consider the Lakers just the least team to be dominated by the stampeding Luka Doncic. He scored 21 points with six rebounds and five assists in the second half.
“That’s part of growing together – how you respond to losses,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Playing in Denver is always tough. As well as they’re playing this year, it’s going to be even tougher. So, I believe in our guys. If we play to our abilities, there’s nobody we can’t beat and nowhere we can’t get a W.”
The 10-game winning streak was the first for the Lakers since they rolled off 11 at the beginning of the 2009-10 season. That team played in the NBA Finals. It was also the last Lakers did to play in the Finals.
“Obviously, this is a historic franchise; they have done so many great things,” Davis said last week. To be a part of a franchise like this is definitely amazing. I just want to leave my mark here and just keep it going.
“Obviously, our goal is to add another banner here. It’s something we feel like we can do, and if we do that, to be a part of that would be nothing but great.”
At 17-2, the Lakers had matched the best 19-game start in franchise history with the 1985-86 and 2008-09 teams. The 1985-86 team went 19-2.
One of the reasons the Lakers are playing so well is their defense. Coming into the Mavericks game, they were the only league team ranked in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency. But Dallas was a tough test. They came in with the league’s best offense and outscored the Lakers by 18 in the formative third quarter.
“We have championship aspirations, but at the end of the day, that’s not what’s here right now,” James said. “And we want to continue to get better and better and have championship mindset every time we step on the floor.
“Playing at championship level, we have guys that have been there, who know what it takes, so that helps for sure. But we just want to continue to get better and continue the process. This is a big process, this is a long process, but we can never shortcut it. But we enjoy it along the way.”