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

Lakers forward Anthony Davis tries to score in the paint over Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Márcio José Sanchez / Associated Press)

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

When they were leading Dallas by four points with 7.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter and needed him to be smart, he recklessly countered a Maxi Kleber three-point shot and was called a foul. Kleber, who had taken just 24 free throws through Friday and shot 58% of them, hit all three to cut the Lakers’ lead to one point.

When they needed Davis to hit a pair of free throws with 6.7 seconds left, he made just one, leaving the Lakers two points clear. And when Dallas subsequently hit the ball, Davis fumbled defensively, closing too late to prevent Kleber from hitting a 27-foot jumper for difference in a 111-110 win over the Lakers that stunned the packed crowd at Crypto.com Arena.

The Lakers loss in their five-game opener wasn’t Davis’s alone. They missed five shots after taking a 107-102 lead with 3:16 to play. They made just 19 of the game’s 31 free throws. “We hit our free throws, we’re probably not having that conversation,” said manager Darvin Ham.

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

With a chance to gain ground on teams that are fighting for a play-in tournament berth, the Lakers were at their worst when the situation called for them to be at their best. Late on Saturday, the Lakers slipped to 11th in the Western Conference and out of a play-in berth as Utah edged past them by beating Boston.

“We are missing our opportunities for sure. It’s frustrating,” Davis said after a 26-point, 10-rebound performance that was overshadowed by his late shots.

“We’re still in a position to do something special, the way we started,” he said, referring to the team’s 2-10 start to the season. “We just talked about it [Saturday]figure out a way to improve on Sunday and win the next four at home before we head to Chicago.

With LeBron James still recovering from a foot injury, the Lakers needed Davis to lead them on Friday. Breathe them in. Take care of them. He no. There’s no getting away from it.

Before Davis said anything else to his teammates after the game, he told them the last play was his fault. He said he would watch a movie on Saturday and practice free throws. But the chance to move up was lost, leaving the Lakers on the downside of an emotional seesaw and under increasing pressure with each 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 Sunday, trying to beat Orlando. But this one is tough, the way it ended.

He said he felt great after sitting out Wednesday in Houston for the ever-unpopular load-management reasons related to the stress injury to his right foot. So there were no physical issues he could blame on Friday, although he did have ice packs taped to both knees and both feet stuck in buckets of ice after the game.

Questioned about his positioning when he fouled Kleber in the three-point attempt, he said he tried to contest the side. “I’m smart, I never jump straight in front of people because they jump too far. I probably even cut it a little bit. I didn’t look into it,” he said. “But I just really tried to jump on his side. I actually think he shot a little left honestly, but some poor defensive play on my part.

On his missed free throw with 6.7 seconds left, he said he shot just wide to the right. “We would have gone up three after that point. Still kind of processing that,” said Davis, who shot eight of 11 from the free throw line. “I mean, you think about it, even three, even if he does a three, overtime.” He sighed. “I mean, a tough defeat,” he added.

On the final play, he acknowledged that he didn’t anticipate what Kyrie Irving would do after Irving caught a pass from Theo Pinson on the Mavericks’ second drive.

“With seven seconds he dribbled almost the entire time. Me just reading it, knowing he would probably make the last shot, he goes into his real-fire move and just gives up, doesn’t shoot,” Davis said. “So when he came up, he kind of pulled me. I was going for the rebound, thinking he was shooting. Then he made a pass to Kleber. And he takes a shot.”

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

“He’s our best player at the moment and that just goes to show that taking responsibility to be the best player,” said Gabriel. That was just a moment. Obviously, it’s not just on AD, but him taking responsibility for that is a big thing rather than finger-pointing in terms of chemistry going forward.

“But we missed some free throws. Kleber hit a nice kick at the end. We have to get there, but we can’t do anything about it. We’ll have to rely heavily on AD along this home stretch. We’re going to have to really come together at this point. This is not the time for us to be pointing fingers or separating. This is where we will have to dig deep and it will show the identity of our team.”

The Lakers will almost certainly make the play-in tournament, in part because all the teams they’re competing with are beating each other most nights and because Portland and New Orleans are disappearing. They should be better than that, waiting for a place in an expanded and planned postseason setup. If they’re going to be better, Davis will have to be better too.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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