The Lakers made two mistakes defending Luka Doncic to close the settlement, and Darvin Ham admitted one of them

The Lakers made two mistakes defending Luka Doncic to close the settlement, and Darvin Ham admitted one of them

The Lakers made two mistakes defending Luka Doncic to close the settlement, and Darvin Ham admitted one of them

With 11.8 seconds left in regulation on Thursday, the Lakers had a three-point lead against the Mavericks, who had possession on one side. Darvin Ham had a decision to make. How was he going to order his team to defend Luka Doncic? Would he even choose to defend at all, or just foul immediately? He had a complete time out to consider his options.

The Lakers had Doncic blitzed for much of the second half. This put the kibosh on his score. He hadn’t recorded a bucket since the 5:22 mark of the third quarter, on a 17-minute drought. There is a toxic catch to this strategy, of course. Hire a double team in Doncic, and you leave a shooting game open. No one finds shooters like Luka.

With a three-point lead, Ham decided he didn’t want any of Dallas’ many capable 3-point shooters to have an open eye and opted to defend Luka directly. It was his first mistake. Ham later admitted this.

“I kick myself in the ass,” Ham said. “I have to train a bit better in this case. We should have blitzed [Luka]. Or at least forced him inside the 3-point line.”

Ham is right on both counts, and it’s not retrospective to say that. Doncic isn’t a good 3-point shooter by stats, but when the game is on the line, you can throw those numbers away. This guy is made of ice. He’s done it too many times. You can’t give him a clear look at a draw 3 in this situation, which he’s sure to get if defended in a conventional one-on-one fashion.

I say conventionally defended because Ham is also right on his other point. If you are going to defend Luka one-on-one, why is Dennis Schroder playing in normal defense, that is, between Luka and the basket? I never understood why teams don’t literally get behind shooters like Doncic in these situations.

Look, he brings in the ball. He is virtually guaranteed to pick it up immediately. Jump high before that happens if you’re Schroder, or if you’re Russell Westbrook, who slumped away from Doncic on the finish, which in turn allowed him a free run at the dribble transfer in the first place , pursue hard behind Luka, remaining attached to him by the back.

The point is this: give Luka a red carpet all the way to the edge and don’t help the shooters. Who cares if he scores in the paint? Two points don’t hurt you. Do you know what hurts you? That …

It evened the game, and it was, again, a predictable outcome. The instant that bullet left Luka’s hand, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think it’s going in. Of course, who’s to say that one of the other Mavericks wouldn’t have done the same if Ham had decided to double Luka. Nobody knows. I would always take a chance on anyone but Doncic but better yet I wouldn’t give a damn someone a chance at this shot.

It’s the dumbest part of NBA basketball in my book, that you can intentionally foul — commit an act that’s in the mind, supposed to hurt your chances of success — when you’re ahead three points to thwart the possibility of an equalizer before it is even attempted. Yet, as they say, these are the rules. Schroder had plenty of time to foul Doncic before he was in position to initiate the shooting move. Not asking his team to deploy this admittedly lame, but statistically correct maneuver was Ham’s other mistake. He didn’t admit that one.

“We weren’t looking to foul,” Ham said. “I felt confident in the five guys we had there to defend.”

Different coaches experience these situations differently. Some believe in three-way fouling; others don’t. I don’t understand the no-fault group. Three points tie the game. Not two. I know Luka missed a free throw on purpose not long ago and made the out to send the game into overtime, but that’s a much less likely event than him just hitting a regular 3 back.

To be fair, there was quite a bit of time left. Let’s say the Lakers’ fault at eight or nine seconds. And let’s say Luka does both (which wouldn’t have been a guarantee; he had just missed two flagrant fouls earlier in the quarter). Now the Mavs foul and the Lakers need to make two free throws to put up a three or give the Lakers a chance to tie without needing a 3 coming the other way.

Was Ham really confident in the guys he defended? Or was he not very confident in the ability of the Lakers to make two free throws? Those are valid considerations, but in the end, you foul when it’s less than 10 seconds, and you’re three ahead. Especially when Luka Doncic is in the other team.

But the Lakers weren’t at fault. And they haven’t doubled either. They gave Doncic a clean look at the most comfortable shot in his vast arsenal. It cost them. Just to drive the point home, Luka went ahead and glued another draw with less than a minute left in the first overtime.

What’s the saying? You play with the bull, you get the horns? Well, Luka is the bull. The Lakers chose to play with him, and they got what they had coming.

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