What a difference a day makes.
Kyle Kuzma scored 13 points in his return from a lower back injury, and the Los Angeles Lakers rallied in the second half to stun the Dallas Mavericks, 107-97, on Monday night at American Airlines Center.
Kuzma, the team's second leading scorer behind LeBron James this season, missed the Lakers last two games with a lower back contusion, both lopsided losses for the Purple and Gold.
"My back was okay," Kuzma told reporters after the game. "It tightened up a little bit, but I just tried to fight through it and help my team win."
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Kuzma showed some signs of rust in his return, shooting a paltry 4-of-20 from the field, but his presence on the court helped spark the Lakers second half comeback.
"I never really think about how many shots I make or miss," said Kuzma of his poor-shooting night. "It's always next play mentality. I just try and play the same every time."
For the third straight game, the Lake Show got out to a sluggish start, trailing 11-3 after the first five minutes of the game.
The Mavericks pulled away in the second quarter, leading by as many as 15 points.
"I was actually surprised we were trailing at the half," said Lakers' head coach Luke Walton. "I told the guys at halftime that I was very pleased with their competitive spirit. The message was to take that energy and spirit, and mentally turn that up in the second half."
Despite playing on the second night of a back-to-back, it was the Lakers who brought the energy in the second half, quickly erasing a 15-point deficit, and turning it into a 14-point advantage by the fourth quarter.
"Our guys did a great job of making life difficult on Dallas," said Walton. "That's what we need to bring to the table every night."
The Lakers were sparked by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Josh Hart (who played the entire second half) in the third quarter, as they went on a 10-point run that finally gave them their first lead of the game at 82-80, with 1:11 remaining in the third quarter.
"The way the third ended we had some momentum going. I was leaning toward taking him [Hart] out for a few minutes, but he came up and said he wasn't tired and wanted to keep rolling," said Walton of why he let Hart play the entirety of the second half. "We needed all those minutes from him."
The run-and-gun Lakers returned to their breakaway style in the second half and finally utilized their youth and athleticism to their advantage. Los Angeles outscored Dallas, 35-5, on fastbreak points in the game.
Brandon Ingram led the Lakers with a season-high 29 points, Lonzo Ball bounced back from a scoreless outing on Sunday with 21 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.
"That was yesterday. I just tried to be more aggressive. Shoot when I'm open. I tried to force the issue a little more," said ball of reclaiming some of his normal form. "I don't like losing. We were 1-5 up to this point. It was a must-win today. BI and I had a good talk last night."
The talk, which Ingram wanted to keep private from the public, was about both players taking accountability, and stepping up their game both on and off the court in the absence of veterans LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, something their head coach appreciated.
""I put so much responsibility on them because that's what I believe they're capable of doing," said Walton of Ingram and Ball on Monday. "I thought both of them had good competitive spirit and fought on both ends of the court and competed, when they do that they're really, really good at basketball."
Hart finished with 14 points and five steals, and Michael Beasley continues to impress since his return last Friday with 13 points off the bench.
"It was a good growing up game for us," Hart told Spectrum SportsNet after the game. "We had the lead late in the fourth, and held on. It was a good mental game for us."
Dallas lost for just the fourth time at home this season, and entered the game with the second best home record in the NBA this season, trailing only the Denver Nuggets 15-3 mark.
Rookie Luka Doncic had a team-high 27 points and eight rebounds for the Mavericks. Harrison Barnes, Dennis Smith Jr. and J.J. Barea each scored 11 points.
DeAndre Jordan had 10 points and a team-high 19 rebounds in the loss.
The Mavs scored just 30 points in the second half, and went as cold as an icicle, shooting just 11-of-43 from the field in the second half with 11 turnovers.
"I think they played way better defensively in the second half," Doncic said. "We didn't move the ball as well as we did in the first half. That was it."
Both teams needed the victory as they each have been slipping in the Western Conference standings as of late. The Lakers won for just the second time in their last seven games (all without LeBron), and the Mavericks have now lost four of their last five games.
The Lakers improved to 6-4 on the second night of a back-to-back this season, and they swept the season series with the Mavericks 3-0.
Notes and Next
LeBron James missed his seventh consecutive game with a left groin strain. Rajon Rondo missed the contest with a right finger injury.
The Lakers will host Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night at 7:30PM PT.