DALLAS -- There was another inspirational victory in a Los Angeles Lakers game, only they were not the winners in this one.
A day after beating the Houston Rockets in overtime, the Lakers let the post-Roy Tarpley, out-on-their-feet Dallas Mavericks climb off the deck. The Mavericks rallied from a 14-point deficit and smoked the Lakers for the rest of Friday night, winning, 99-86.
After the first quarter, the Mavericks, who had just lost back-to-back games to the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat, not to mention their past six in Reunion Arena to the Lakers, shot 60 percent.
"In the second half, we kind of fell apart a little bit defensively," Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "I'm not sure it didn't have to do with fatigue. I played our guys big minutes in the overtime [in Houston Thursday]. But defensively, we've got to have a gut check."
The Mavericks started the night looking as though they were doing well to avoid crying in public. Contenders for the finals in their own minds as the season began, they were ambushed by Tarpley's knee surgery. The news was felt to be of such import, two area newspapers carried it on the front page.
Once again, the Mavericks found themselves in what the Dallas Morning News calls "Post-Tarpley Syndrome." Coach Richie Adubato walked up and down press row before the game, confiding how upset he was.
His team then proceeded to demonstrate why.
Ducking a fusillade of Maverick bricks, the Lakers shot to a 26-12 lead. They led, 31-18, in the second quarter when Johnson went to the bench for his first rest.
Within four minutes, the Mavericks trailed, 32-27.
Johnson was rushed back in, but the chance for an early knockout was over. The teams battled on even terms until the fourth quarter, which Dallas began with a 10-0 run, including Derek Harper's back-to-back three-pointers.
Along the way, the Lakers had shocking lapses, such as the one in which they came out of a timeout, lined up and let venerable, slow Brad Davis the lane, reach the basket and lay the ball up. Maybe they were emotionally spent from Houston. Maybe Dunleavy is right about that gut check, too.
"None of us played well," Magic Johnson said. "Sam [Perkins] played a great half [with 14 points], but that was it."
Everybody is still being polite, but the Lakers' defensive problem seems to begin at center.
Mychal Thompson started last season, and the Lakers generally played straight up against the opposing center. Thompson, 34, has fallen so far out of the picture that against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, he missed a game without being injured for the first time in his career.
The Lakers began this season with Vlade Divac and double-teamed opposing centers. Opponents shot them up like Dodge City.
Friday night, Perkins, a forward, got his first start at defensive center. The Mavericks suggested that the Lakers still haven't found the total answer yet.
Thus ended the Lakers' tour of Texas. They had an emotional night in Houston, won a game and got Perkins going but couldn't sustain the effort long enough to produce the victory that would have meant momentum.