Column: A lot of blame for the Lakers’ loss to Mavericks, and it starts with Anthony Davis

When the Lakers needed him most on Friday, Anthony Davis let them down.

In the fourth quarter, when they were four points clear of Dallas with 7.2 seconds left and needed him clever, he foolishly countered a three-point shot from Maxi Kleber and was called for a foul. Kleber, who had made just 24 free throws prior to Friday and was making 58% of them, hit all three to cut the Lakers’ lead to a point.

When they needed Davis to hit two free throws by 6.7 seconds, he converted just one, leaving the Lakers by two. And when Dallas subsequently brought in the ball, Davis lost defensively, closing far too late to prevent Kleber from sinking a 27-foot jumper for the difference in a 111-110 win over the Lakers that sold out the crowd stunned in the Arena.

The Lakers’ loss in the opener of a five-game homestand wasn’t down to Davis alone. They missed five shots after holding a 107-102 lead with 3:16 left in the game. They only converted 19 of 31 free throws in the game. “We’re taking our free throws, we’re probably not having that conversation,” said coach Darvin Ham.

But they didn’t make those free throws, and Davis didn’t lead them emotionally or by example.

With a chance to gain ground against teams vying for a place in the play-in tournament, the Lakers showed themselves at their worst when the situation called for them to play their best. After their second loss in a row was the difference between them and 11th place in the ranking – outside of play-in competition – was 0.001.

“We’re definitely missing our chances. It’s frustrating,” Davis said after a 28-point, 20-rebound performance that was overshadowed by his late misses.

“With the way we started, we’re still able to create something special,” he said, referring to the team’s 10-2 win into the season. “We just need to talk about it [Saturday]find a way to get better on Sunday and then win the next four at home before we go to Chicago.

With LeBron James still recovering from a foot injury, the Lakers needed Davis to lead them on Friday. Inspire them. They wear. He did not do it. There’s no way around it.

Before saying anything else to his teammates after the game, Davis told them that the last game was his fault. He said he would watch a movie on Saturday and practice free throws. But the chance to advance was lost, leaving the Lakers on the downside of an emotional seesaw and under mounting pressure every game.

“At the end of the day there’s nothing we can do about it, to be honest. It happened,” Davis said of the missed opportunities and loss. “Our focus now is on Sunday and we’re trying to win against Orlando. But this one is hard the way it ended.”

He said he’s feeling great after sitting on his right foot in Houston on Wednesday for the always unpopular reasons for load management related to his stress injury. So there were no physical issues to blame on Freitag, despite having ice packs attached to both knees and both feet in ice buckets after the game.

When asked about his positioning when he fouled Kleber on the three-point try, he said he tried to contest him from the side. “I’m smart, I never really jump right in front of people because they jump so far. I probably trimmed him a bit anyway. I haven’t looked at it,” he said. “But I just tried to really jump to his side. Honestly I think he shot a bit to the left but some bad defensive plays from me.

On his missed free throw with 6.7 seconds left, he said he shot a little to the right. “We would have been three after that point. I’m still kind of processing it,” said Davis, who was eight for 11 from the free throw line. “I mean, you think about it, until three, even if he gets a three, overtime.” He sighed. “I mean, a tough loss,” he added.

On the final play, he admitted he didn’t anticipate what Kyrie Irving would do after Irving took a pass from Theo Pinson on the Mavericks’ second try to hit the ball.

“With seven seconds he dribbled almost the whole clock. I just read it because I knew he was probably going to take the last shot, he goes into his actual shooting motion and just comes down with it, don’t shoot,” Davis said. “When he went upstairs, I was kind of drawn in. I wanted to aim for the rebound and figured he was going to shoot it. Then he matched Kleber. And he takes a shot.”

Wenyen Gabriel said Davis’ willingness to take the blame proves that Davis is a worthy leader.

“He’s our best player at the moment and that just goes to show that taking responsibility is the best player,” Gabriel said. “It’s important for continuity as a team and mutual trust, and of course we trust AD. That was just a moment. It’s obviously not just AD, but taking responsibility for it is something that’s important rather than pointing fingers at future chemistry.

“But we didn’t take a few free throws. Kleber hit a great shot at the end. We need to get out of there, but there’s nothing we can do about it. We will have to rely heavily on AD during this final leg. This is where we really need to come together. This is not the time to point fingers or separate us. This is where we have to dig deep and it will reveal the identity of our team.”

The Lakers will almost certainly get into the play-in tournament, in part because all of the teams they compete with beat each other most nights and because Portland and New Orleans are fading. They should be better and hoping for a place in a made-up, extended postseason setup. If they want to get better, Davis has to get better too.

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