LOS ANGELES — Over and over again, sitting in front of his locker after the game, Lakers star Anthony Davis repeated how tough it was to stomach Friday night’s 111-110 loss to the Mavericks at the buzzer.
Tough because his closeout wasn’t enough of a deterrent to stop Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber from getting off the game-winning 3 with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. Tough because the shot from Kleber was preceded by Davis going 1-for-2 from the foul line with 6.7 seconds left, failing to give Los Angeles a three-point cushion that would have at least made Kleber’s shot force overtime rather than win it outright.
Tough because just before that, with 7.2 seconds left and 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 the last play was my fault,” said Davis, who has taken the blame for a loss twice in the Lakers’ past four games, the other coming in Houston when he had to sit out because of a lingering foot injury.
And tough, Davis said, because on a night when four other teams surrounding Los Angeles 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 were for naught.
Instead, all the momentum swung to the Mavericks. Playing on the road without Luka Doncic and welcoming Kyrie Irving back to the lineup after a three-game absence because of right foot soreness, Dallas came in and took the win.
The victory moved the Mavericks to No. 6 in the Western Conference at 36-35, and they won the season series against the Lakers 2-1.
The Lakers are No. 10 in the West at 34-37, two games behind the Mavericks with 11 games to play, but it might as well be three games because Dallas now owns the tiebreaker.
As painful a night as it was for Davis, it was just as thrilling for Kleber, who nearly cost the Mavericks a game in San Antonio on Wednesday by throwing a full-court inbounds pass out of bounds with 1.8 seconds remaining in regulation and then blowing an assignment to free up Keldon Johnson for a lob to send it to overtime.
Kleber said during an on-court interview after the game that Irving, who scored 38 points and had the assist to Kleber on the final shot, told him, “That’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 helping erase a 14-point Dallas lead to put Los Angeles in position to win, offered similarly uplifting support for Davis.
“I mean, AD is our leader,” Gabriel said. “He’s our best player right now, and that just shows that taking accountability as being the best player. That’s something that’s important for the continuity as a team and having trust in each other, and obviously we trust AD. That was just a moment. It’s obviously not just on AD, but him taking accountability for that is something that is 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 games at home before leaving Los Angeles 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, such as when Davis missed late free throws in an overtime loss in Philadelphia or when he missed another free throw in the final minute and Indiana won at the buzzer with a 3 from nearly the exact same spot on the floor that Kleber launched his.
The Lakers have been digging themselves out of a hole ever since their 2-10 start. Just when it looked like they had some breathing room, winning six out of eight after the All-Star break, they have now lost three out of four and are slipping backward at the worst time possible.
“We’re missing our opportunities, for sure. It’s frustrating,” Davis said.
But he added: “We’re still in a position to do something special, with the way we started.”