Loss to Mavericks Shows Lakers’ Soft Schedule Toughening Up in December

LeBron James, Lakers

LeBron James, Lakers

The Lakers got out of November with just two losses, a 10-game winning streak intact and a league-best 17-2 record. But things were bound to change in December and that started on Sunday with a flat loss to the Mavericks, who used a 17-point run in the third quarter to take control of the game, led by as many as 21 points and won by 14.

The Mavericks are now 13-6, meaning this was just the sixth game this season the Lakers have played against a team over .500. They’re now 3-3 in those games and 14-0 against teams with losing records.

The Lakers, then, might sit atop the league through 20 games, essentially a quarter of the season but L.A. has done it with an especially soft schedule, including the 10-game streak that came against teams with a combined 63-116 record.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said the Lakers’ response to this loss will be important for team development.

“That’s part of growing together,” he told reporters, “how you respond to losses and we couldn’t have a tougher opponent coming up with the next game. Playing in Denver is always tough, as well as they’re playing this year, it’ll be even tougher. I believe in our guys.”

Around the league, the Lakers are one of only three teams—two East teams, the Pacers and the Raptors are the others—too have so few games against teams with winning records. And the Lakers are hardly the only team in the NBA to fatten up against losing teams. Milwaukee and Miami (both 11-0), as well as Toronto (12-0), are also undefeated against teams under .500.

Regardless, that’s all set to change, and the change started with Dallas, who came in with six wins in its last seven games. The Mavs had allowed just 31.8 percent shooting from the 3-point line in their last five games, meaning they were set to give a challenge to one element that bolstered the Lakers throughout their winning streak when the Lakers shot 40.7 percent from the 3-point line.

Lakers’ December Opponents: 158-108

The Lakers can expect more challenges like that in the next 30 days. L.A. will play 14 games this month, nine of which come on the road. Including the Mavericks, the Lakers will play 10 of those games against teams currently over .500.

The Lakers’ December opponents currently have a record 158-108. The Lakers rank fourth in the NBA in net rating, a measure of the difference between their offensive and defensive efficiency, and among the other nine teams in the Top 10, L.A. will play six of them at least once this month.

That includes another game to close the month in Dallas. There will also be a pair of games against the Nuggets, who are 13-4, and one against the Bucks—who are also 17-3—in Milwaukee. The Lakers also play in Miami, where the Heat are 8-0.

Even the two games against Portland are looking tougher. Since getting their new starting five in place, with Damian Lillard and Hassan Whiteside healthy and Carmelo Anthony in the mix, the Blazers are 3-0.

And the highlight of the month—and of the leaguewide schedule in December—will be the rematch with the Clippers on Christmas Day. The Clippers beat the Lakers soundly in the season opener, 112-102, and have won seven of their last eight games.

Despite the big shift in schedule, Vogel is confident.

“If we play to our abilities,” he said, “there’s nobody we can’t beat and nowhere we can’t get a W.”

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