Posted on February 11, 2018, by Travis Pulver
The story everyone wanted to see unfold prior to Saturday night’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks had nothing to do with the outcome of the game. Neither team has played well this season. While the Lakers have an outside shot at making the playoffs, the Mavericks don’t.
So, the outcome to this one was irrelevant. But how the newest member of the Lakers, Isaiah Thomas, played—now that’s a story.
There was some initial concern that it may not go well. After the trade went down last Thursday, there were several reports in the media about how Thomas would not be willing to accept a role off the bench. But the Lakers have a starting point guard already in Lonzo Ball. There was no way the Lakers would stop his growth to accommodate Thomas.
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But then before Saturday’s game, the narrative changed. It seemed that common sense prevailed, and Thomas came to grips with his new situation. He could make the most of it or make a fuss and be labeled a malcontent.
No one offers a ‘malcontent’ a max deal.
“This is the best they have been playing,” Thomas said, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. “I don’t want to mess anything up. And I told [coach Luke Walton] that. Whatever he needs me to do, I am willing to do that.
“Yes, I would love to be a starter. I feel like I deserve that and earned that. But at the same time, it’s a new chapter for me. I am here to help this team, help these young guys, continue to be professional, continue to work hard and continue to gel together.”
Of course, Saturday night was made a little easier for Lakers head coach Luke Walton since Ball was ruled out with an injury. With only a day under to get Thomas acclimated to the team, there was only so much he could know about what the team likes to run. So, his debut with the Lakers was really more about him just going out and playing basketball.
On an individual level, it worked. Thomas played in 31 minutes off the bench and scored 22 points (7-12 from the floor; 4-8 from three-point range). After the game, Thomas sounded like he felt good about his new team (ESPN):
“I wanted to bring something to the table,” Thomas said. “I felt like I got my powers back playing on this team.”
As for the team, the game didn’t go as well. After a first quarter that saw both teams shoot well, the Lakers had a two-point advantage, 36-34. The hot hands continued for both in the second. While the Lakers won the quarter, they were only able to close the gap by a point. Heading into halftime, the Lakers were ahead, 66-65.
The lead changed hands a few times in the third. But when the fourth quarter started, the Mavericks had taken control, 100-95. Los Angeles would battle their way back and take a brief lead after Kyle Kuzma made a 26-foot three-pointer with 6:28 to play. But the Mavericks controlled the ball and the game down the stretch.
In the end, the Mavericks won the day, 130-123.
Julius Randle led the way for the Lakers with 26 points followed by Brandon Ingram and Thomas with 22 points. Brook Lopez chipped in 16.
For the Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki appeared to roll back the clock. The veteran forward shot 8-11 from the floor including 4-4 from three-point range to lead Dallas with 22 points. Harrison Barnes had 21 and Dwight Powell chipped in 21 off the bench.
While no one likes to lose, the Lakers have to be pleased with how well Thomas was able to play after only being with the team a short time. It will be interesting to see how things work when Ball is healthy and able to play.
If things click—could the Lakers make a late playoff push?
They’ll have a few days to teach him more of the playbook before taking the court again. The Lakers are off until Wednesday. They’ll head to New Orleans on Valentine’s Day to face the Pelicans. The Mavericks will back in action Sunday night as they travel to Houston to take on the Rockets.