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Off-the-court issues follow Mavs into game against Lakers

Waves of negativity slammed the Dallas Mavericks since they last played 10 days ago.

The Mavericks will gather for their first game since the NBA All-Star break on Friday at the Los Angeles Lakers, and owner Mark Cuban still has plenty of explaining to do regarding one explosive news report and a hefty fine to pay regarding another issue that boiled to the surface this week.

On Tuesday, a Sports Illustrated story detailed rampant sexual misconduct within the organization's front office and Cuban's slow response in dealing with the scandal.

The following day, Cuban was fined $600,000 by the NBA for stating on a podcast three days earlier that the Mavericks should deliberately lose games this season in order to better their chances in the draft lottery.

Even his most trusted player disagreed with that opinion.

"Players never play to lose," 20-year veteran Dirk Nowitzki told reporters. "It might happen, but you don't play for it. I still love to compete. That's one big reason why I'm still out there. I'll never stand for losing on purpose. It's just not who I am."

The Mavericks (18-40) have been doing a lot more losing than winning through the first four months of the season. They started by dropping nine of their first 10 games and 14 of 16 before showing some improvement with an 8-8 record in December, including a season-high four-game win streak from Dec. 26 to Dec. 31.

The Mavericks began another free fall in January, however, and they're 5-15 in 2018. Only the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns have worst records of 18-41.

Dallas received some good news on Thursday when coach Rick Carlisle said center Nerlens Noel could return against the Lakers. Noel has been out since undergoing thumb surgery in early December.

The Lakers (23-34) are hoping to have a key player back from injury as well.

Rookie point guard Lonzo Ball hasn't played since Jan. 13 against the Mavericks because of a sprained ligament in his left knee, but he returned to practice this week. He told reporters after practice Thursday that he still felt "some pain" in the knee but was hopeful he'd be well enough to play.

His teammates are looking forward to his return as well.

"It's going to be really fun to have him out there pushing the basketball and putting guys in different spots and giving confidence to other guys," Lakers forward Brandon Ingram told reporters after practice this week. "It's just going to make our offense even better."

Channing Frye, whom the Lakers acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 8, won't play after undergoing an appendectomy last weekend. He'll miss at least the next five games.

Isaiah Thomas, whom Los Angeles acquired in the same deal with Cleveland, will play his first game at Staples Center as a member of the Lakers.

He scored 22 points in his team debut at Dallas on Feb. 10. But he was ejected five minutes into the following game and was held to seven points on 3-of-15 shooting in his most recent game on Feb. 15 at the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Lakers lost all three games after a three-game winning streak.

Updated February 22, 2018

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