Every game is a must-win for the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks are fighting for their playoff lives with 11 games remaining in the regular season. Luckily, a win over the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night gave them valuable breathing room.
In the game’s waning moments, it looked as though Dallas would drop another close contest and fall further in the standings. Los Angeles led 109-105 with under a minute to play. But thanks to the late-game heroics of Maxi Kleber, the Mavericks celebrated a remarkable 111-110 win on the floor of Crypto.com Arena.
With 7.2 seconds remaining, Lakers star Anthony Davis fouled Kleber on a three-point attempt. Kleber, a 63.3% free throw shooter this season, calmly sank all three shots from the line. Then, on the final possession, Kyrie Irving found Kleber on the left side of the arc. Kleber caught the ball with 0.9 seconds left, rose, shot and hit the bucket of his career.
“It was a pretty amazing feeling,” Kleber said. “Once I let it go, I saw the ball in the air. Midair, I was like, ‘Oh damn, it has a chance to go in.’ All of a sudden it went in, and the next thing I knew the whole team was running at me. So, it was a pretty cool experience.”
Kleber’s game-winner had a ripple effect. Not only did it stun the Lakers, it vaulted the Mavericks up the standings in the Western Conference. Dallas entered the game as the eighth seed in the play-in tournament bracket. The win propelled the Mavericks out of the play-in and into the sixth seed.
Dallas has now won two games in a row. It’s the first time the team has strung together consecutive wins since a three-game win streak dating back to February 6 – 10. Injuries, poor game management and other struggles are to blame for Dallas’ middling performances.
Yet, through the difficulties, the team has stuck together. In the locker room, Mavericks head coach says that Irving and Luka Doncic have been preaching trust among their teammates. It has helped them overcome the recent lows.
“They truly believe in one another, and they believe that we can do something special,” Kidd said. “We’ve lost some games, and we’re being tested to see if we truly believe that we can be a good team. Our health has kind of gotten in the way with that too.”
Doncic remains out with a thigh issue, but his return could come soon. Having their star back on the floor should give the Mavericks the offensive punch they need to ride out the rest of the regular season and avoid the play-in tournament.
It might be overly dramatic to say that Dallas’ win in L.A. was the Mavericks’ biggest win of the season. However, it just might be after the team floundered for weeks. Kleber knows that his heroics helped Dallas’ cause, but he also understands that he and his teammates must find more wins before everything is said and done.
“If you look at the standings in the West, obviously every win counts, especially that one,” Kleber said. “It was just big time for us to get two wins in a row. We’ve just got to continue. It doesn’t really matter how ugly or pretty the wins are; we’ve just got to somehow find a way. That’s what we did today.”