The prime-time Saturday night matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks lost a little luster with LeBron James and Kristaps Porzingis sidelined due to injuries, but there was still plenty of excitement on the court. Using a dominant second half, the Mavericks turned a 17-point deficit into a 108-93 win.
Luka Doncic and Co. struggled early on, as the Lakers were determined to get the ball out of his hands. But after regrouping in the locker room at halftime, both he and the team did a much better job of dealing with the pressure. Doncic finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and 13 assists, and the Mavericks outscored the Lakers by 27 points in the second half.
The Lakers played well early on, as they frustrated Doncic and shot the ball well from the 3-point line. They just weren't able to sustain either of those aspects over the full 48 minutes, and the lead quickly evaporated as they went cold and the Mavericks figured things out. Anthony Davis increased his playing time to 25 minutes, but he struggled again, scoring 17 points on 5 of 19 from the field.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Doncic forced to facilitate, hits key shots late
Luka Doncic is already one of the best players in the NBA, and as we've seen on countless occasions this season, he's more than capable of taking over games. The Lakers tried their hardest to make sure that didn't happen, and to their credit they did have some success.
They were trapping Doncic out of every single pick-and-roll, which prevented him from getting too many looks at the basket and forced him to give up the ball. Early on that strategy was working well. Doncic turned the ball over six times, and his teammates weren't able to knock down shots.
But as the game wore on, Doncic slowly started to figure things out, and picked apart the Lakers' defense. He dished out 10 assists in the second half alone, a number of which went to Dwight Powell for wide open slam dunks. After an uncharacteristically low-scoring first half, those easy buckets were crucial to getting the Mavs back on track.
Of course, he had to get in on the scoring action as well, and came up with some big shots down the stretch. In particular, his step-back 3-pointer over Dennis Schroder was ridiculous.
Davis plays more, still struggles
After missing over two months with a calf strain, Anthony Davis made his return to the court earlier this week in the Lakers' first game against the Mavericks. It was a rather uneventful return, as he was under a strict minutes limit and scored four points on 2 of 10 from the field.
Game 2 for him on Saturday night didn't go much better. He was able to increase his playing time to 28 minutes, and save for a brief scare where he came up liming after battling for a rebound, it seems that everything went well on that front. That was really the only positive to take from the game, however.
As expected he's still rusty on the offensive end, and had a rough night shooting the ball again. This time he put up 17 points, but he went 5 of 19 from the field to get there. You sort of expect these type of games after a player misses so much time, but that doesn't make it easier when they actually happen. It goes without saying that the Lakers need Davis to be better, and there's little doubt he will be once he finds his rhythm.
Powell nearly hits career-high
Win or lose, the Lakers were not going to let Doncic put up 30-plus on them in this game, which meant the Mavericks needed someone to step up. That someone turned out to be Dwight Powell, who put up 25 points and nine rebounds on 11 of 12 shooting.
The nearly perfect performance from Powell was not only his best since returning from a torn Achilles tendon, but one of the best of his career. He's had an up-and-down season so far, but what he did on Saturday night was a reminder of how important he can be to this team.
Dallas obviously runs a ton of pick-and-roll -- 28.7 percent of their possessions, to be exact -- often with Doncic as the initiator. We know he can create for himself out of those situations, but when teams trap as often as the Lakers did, he needs reliable release valves.
And while the Mavericks have rightly surrounded him with a lot of shooting, Powell offers a different option as a vertical threat at the rim. That was certainly key in this game. When the outside shots weren't going in, Doncic was able to find Powell inside on the roll, which not only created a bunch of easy points, but opened up more space for the shooters spacing the floor.
Lakers' frontcourt rotation in question
The Lakers' frontcourt depth has been an issue at times this season due to injuries, but with Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol healthy, and Andre Drummond in the mix after joining via the buyout market, things are starting to get crowded.
That means less playing time for everyone, and on Saturday night Montrezl Harrell was the odd man out. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel explained that he was trying to keep everyone engaged. "We need to keep all three centers sharp," Vogel said. "[Harrell] was great with it, he understood."
But while Vogel was trying to keep things positive, Gasol made it clear that there's no easy solution here. "It's not an ideal situation for everybody, Gasol said. "It's whatever the coach wants us to do. ... It's going to take a lot of buying in."
Well then! Definitely something to keep an eye on down the stretch.
Mavericks get key win in playoff race
This was the third straight win for the Mavericks, but more importantly it was their second straight over the Lakers. As a result they're now 33-26 on the season, sit all alone in sixth place in the Western Conference and are suddenly just 1.5 games behind a Lakers team that still doesn't have LeBron James.
The Mavericks' main goal over the last few weeks of the regular season is still going to be holding off the Portland Trail Blazers and avoiding the play-in tournament, but they're now right there in the race for the No. 5 seed, and own the season tiebreaker over the Lakers.