LOS ANGELES • LeBron James wants the Los Angeles Lakers to make a better fist of closing out teams down the stretch.
In their previous two losses to the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Lakers threw away leads going into the fourth quarter and history almost repeated itself on Wednesday.
The Dallas Mavericks nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback after trailing by 19 points in the third quarter and by 14 points with four minutes left on the clock.
But James had the final word, making a tie-breaking free throw with 2.1 seconds to go as the Lakers held on for a 114-113 win over the visiting Mavericks at the Staples Centre, ending a two-game skid.
Despite sinking only one of two free throws, the 14-time All-Star, who top-scored with 29 points, was bailed out by J.J. Barea's missed three-point attempt at the buzzer.
James admitted that the Lakers are still a work in progress and his teammates have to start learning how to come up clutch.
The forward told Spectrum SportsNet: "We took our foot off the gas and allowed them to get back into it. They got into a great rhythm in the fourth quarter and they made it a game.
"They (the Lakers) haven't been in much moments like this and (don't) know how to execute down the stretch, but this is the best way to teach them.
"The best way for all of us to learn together is to be in these fights, be in these battles - and we've had a few of them already in this season."
While all five starters scored in double figures for Los Angeles, JaVale McGee, who had a double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds, felt that the manner of the narrow victory had left a sour taste in his mouth.
"We were disappointed in the way we won," he said.
"I was saying when we came in, 'Can we blow somebody out please?'. Like we were up a lot."
Lakers coach Luke Walton also urged his team to shape up in crunch time, telling the Los Angeles Times: "Down the stretch, you have to be able to rely on your defence to win the game. I thought we had two good quarters and two awful quarters."
Wesley Matthews scored 21 points to lead the Mavericks, who fell to 2-6 after their fifth straight defeat, while the Lakers improved their record to 3-5.