Next time the NBA fills up Christmas Day with basketball, make sure batteries are included on both sides.
The Lakers could have played in their stockings and won this one over Dallas. Their 138-115 victory followed Miami’s 13-point stroll past New Orleans, Milwaukee’s 39-point embarrassment of Golden State, and Brooklyn’s ominous 28-point waltz in Boston.
It’s not unusual to have Christmas games serve as background music instead of actual dramatics, and it wouldn’t be bad, either, if this were a year when the family could gather ‘round. Although the players aspire to get network exposure, they’re as protective of their special days as anybody else. When one team falls behind, it’s easier to punt its best effort to a more secular occasion.
But you can’t blame the NBA for playing as many games as it can whenever it can, seeing what might be awaiting as the winter deepens. On Friday, the Lakers just had fun matching up their new ornaments.
This was the Lakers’ highest-scoring performance since Dec. 8 of last year, when Anthony Davis put 50 points and they throttled Minnesota 142-125. They certainly weren’t offensively challenged in their championship season, but they can score far easier in their half-court offense with Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schröder in the crew, especially if Kyle Kuzma keeps looking this good.
Harrell, Schröder and Kuzma shot 23 for 35 against the Mavericks, and Harrell’s five offensive rebounds helped the Lakers outscore Dallas 35-0 on second-chance opportunities, which hasn’t happened in the NBA since such records were kept.
Their strong push meant Davis could work fewer than 31 minutes and LeBron James fewer than 32, a rest they earned after a strong first quarter.
“Five or six guys are able to come in and get you 20,” Kuzma said. “We’ve got guys ready to come in and take a game over.”
It might be the closest thing to a shadow starting lineup since 1984, when Pat Riley often began games with Bob McAdoo, Jamaal Wilkes, Michael Cooper and Mitch Kupchak sitting beside him. Here, the Laker reserves scored 55 points and sank 10 of 16 3-point shots.
Nobody actually wants to see the Lakers experiment with this, but if James or Davis had to miss extended time, couldn’t they still finish high in the West? One would assume Jalen Horton-Tucker, among others, would eat up those available minutes, and we’ve barely seen the tip of Wesley Matthews’ game in this 1-1 start.
“I can see, with this team, that I can go into the lane and put pressure on the other team,” said Schröder, who left no doubt that he would be thrilled to sign a contract extension “as long as it’s fair for both sides.
“When I do that, nobody is really helping,” Schroder added. “Everybody else on the court draws a lot of attention.”
The Mavericks (0-2) got 27 points and seven rebounds from Luka Doncic, but they needed more, or at least needed him to do it differently. Coach Frank Vogel had Schröder guard Doncic much of the time and then called in bigger helpmates when the shot clock began dwindling.
Doncic was only 7 for 16 in the first three quarters, and Vogel was pleased the Lakers kept him from digging in at the 3-point line. He went 2 for 4 from deep, and had only four rebounds.
“You try not to overhelp and open up the 3-point game for all their guys,” Vogel said. Add the Mavericks’ 13-for-32 shooting on longballs, and those are winning numbers against the preseason favorite for league Most Valuable Player.
“I guarded Luka quite a bit when I was in Oklahoma City,” Schröder said. “We did a great job of putting him under pressure in the beginning, although we slipped a little bit later.
“I gotta play defense because it gets me into my offense. I think it’s 60, 70 percent of my game. If I play 94 feet with energy, my teammates can see that we’re all into it. That’s what I’ve done my whole career.”
Harrell is also doing the same things that earned him the league’s top Sixth Man award last year, an honor for which Schröder contended as well.
“The only thing to say about him (Harrell) is that he catches everything and he scores everything,” Vogel said, smiling. “We’re trying to give our depth enough reps, and trying to manage LeBron, but it started tonight with LeBron and AD playing at a high level.”
As they know each other better, the Lakers probably will give you lots of nights like this, lots of games that get wrapped up earlier than your gifts probably were.
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