When the Lakers last left the Dallas Mavericks on November 11, the Mavs were in the middle of a painful tailspin.
There were questions about Jason Kidd’s age, new coach Rick Carlisle’s system, even owner Mark Cuban’s stock trading.
But a lot changed over the past two and a half weeks. The Mavs five-game losing streak turned into a five-game winning streak, meaning Friday’s post-Thanksgiving showdown with the Lakers at Staples Center was a lot more than a meeting of the team with the best record in the NBA against a team playing .500 basketball.
It was a meeting of the two hottest teams in the Western Conference. And like they have at just about every challenge thus far, the Lakers rose to meet it, rallying from a sluggish start to beat the Mavs 114-107.
The Lakers improved their record to 13-1, which leaves them just three wins shy of tying their best start in franchise history.
For most of the game though, that final score seemed unfathomable as Dallas controlled the tempo, the momentum and the scoreboard.
The Lakers, well, they seemed to still be digesting their Thanksgiving dinners.
Before the game, Lakers coach Phil Jackson had expressed concern that Friday’s game could be a trap game. Jackson gave his team the day off Thursday to spend the holiday with their families.
“Oh, yeah,” Jackson said, when asked if he worried about a holiday hangover. “We did some mock-up offense in the half-court situation just so we get some rhythm back and some idea of what we want to get emphasized. We’re obviously concerned.”
The Lakers bench, which has been a trump card in most games this season, was virtually nonexistent for most of the first three quarters. Dallas’ reserves outscored the Lakers bench 35-2 in the first half.
Jason Terry had 10 points, Brandon Bass had nine, cat-quick point guard Jose Barea had eight and former Laker Devean George added six. Sasha Vujacic was the only one of the Lakers reserves to even score in the first half. He had one basket in four tries.
While the bench struggled, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant kept the Lakers afloat. Fisher hit eight of his 14 shots to finish with 19 points. Bryant bounced back from a poor shooting night on Tuesday against New Jersey, scoring a game-high 35 points on 14-of-26 shooting.
But like it has all season, once the bench picked it up, the Lakers fortunes soon turned. In the third quarter, Trevor Ariza picked up a few baskets by hanging around the basket. His put-back dunk with 4:49 to go sparked what ended up as a 17-4 Lakers run.
In less than five minutes of action, the Mavs 74-63 lead had turned into an 80-78 Lakers advantage.
Once the Lakers flipped the switch, their lead kept growing. Bryant’s free throws with 3:48 remaining in the fourth quarter put Los Angeles up 106-95.
Most nights, that’s when the other team throws its hands up and puts its rookies in the game. But Dallas refused to go quietly. Jason Terry hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead down to 106-100 and then 108-103 with 1:36 remaining.
But Terry couldn’t do it alone. He made a lay-up to make it 110-105, but missed a 3-point shot with 28 seconds left and Dallas would get no closer.
Bryant hit back-to-back layups in the final minute to put the game away.
Terry finished with a team-high 29 points. Dirk Nowitzki added 19 points and 12 rebounds for Dallas.
Ariza scored all 15 of his points in the second half. Andrew Bynum added 18 points and 10 rebounds.