LOS ANGELES -- Before his Lakers took the court for Game 2 against the Mavericks, Phil Jackson admitted that this Dallas team has him "worried." Kobe Bryant similarly said after Game 1 that he was "highly concerned."
Imagine how they feel after Game 2.
Dallas took it to the Lakers once again Wednesday, and the team's 93-81 victory that has them up 2-0 in the series -- with the next two games on the Mavericks' home floor -- wasn't surprising only to the masses who were expecting L.A. to bounce back and even the series.
"If you would have told me before that we would have won both games, it would have been hard to believe," Dirk Nowitzki said, after leading all scorers with 24 points. "But I think we earned it."
Dallas earned it on both ends of the floor, but especially on defense, where they held the Lakers to 32 second-half points, and made life miserable for Pau Gasol on the inside.
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Some of it, however, was due to the way the Lakers attacked. There were times when they fed Gasol again and again in the post, when he clearly was struggling to score against the size of the Dallas front line. This was especially true in the third quarter, when the fans at Staples Center grew tired of seeing Gasol fail, and rained boos down upon the court as he repeatedly couldn't finish.
It probably didn't help that the Lakers' other big man, starting center Andrew Bynum, seemed to have little trouble attacking and being aggressive. He had 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting by halftime to go along with six rebounds, but was largely getting the ball himself by way of offensive rebounds; the team only occasionally looked to him as a primary option.
What also helped Dallas' defense was the Lakers couldn't buy a bucket from downtown. L.A. missed its first 15 3-points attemps and wound up 2 for 20. Because of this, the Mavericks could double-team and pack the paint, and the Lakers, when dared to keep shooting from long range, seemed more than happy to oblige.
No better evidence of this came when the team was trailing by 13 points with just under five minutes left -- a time when it was absolutely crucial to get quality shots to make one final run -- and Shannon Brown launched yet another of the team's missed 3-pointers.
The Mavericks closed with the speedy J.J. Barea slicing up the Lakers' defense in the fourth quarter. He used his speed to get into the lane and then create wide-open looks for the shooters who were spacing the floor.
Barea was so effective that Ron Artest decided to clothesline him with 24 seconds remaining and the game decided -- an act that got him ejected, and might earn him a suspension for Game 3.
"I saw a clip of it just now, and it was uncalled for," Jackson said afterward. "There's a good chance he'll be suspended. I hope not."
If the league decides Artest is out for Game 3 on Friday in Dallas, just add that to the long list of issues the Lakers will need to deal with if they are to begin a comeback in this series. Bynum was talking about the team having "trust issues" in the locker room afterward, something that Bryant tried to clarify as something related to the team's execution on the defensive end of the floor. Gasol's struggles, the team's overall lack of offensive rhythm, and the inability to slow Nowitzki or the pace of Dallas' offense are other problems the Lakers will look to solve in the very short amount of time they have to get things turned around.
And of course, there's history. Only three teams have come back to win a best-of-7 series after losing the first two games at home. It's something that will be talked about plenty in the coming days, but Nowitzki doesn't believe his team has accomplished anything just yet.
"This series is far from over," he cautioned. "I've been around a long time. I've been up 2-0 before and ended up losing the series. I've been down 2-0, where we lost both home games against Houston a couple years ago, and came back and won a Game 7. We've seen a lot of things happen in this league so we've got to stay focused and stay together."
Bryant understands his team is in a difficult spot, and said, "If you want to make history, you have to do historic things." But at the same time, he said that desperation is not a good look for the Lakers right now, and that instead they need to play with a sense of calm and focus on correcting their mistakes.
"Desperate is a strong word," he said. "I think when you play desperate, you don't play your best basketball."
It might be foolish to count out the two-time defending champions before they've lost each and every one of the four games required to send them home before June for the first time since 2007. But there's no denying the task that lies ahead is a daunting one. The Lakers must now beat Dallas in four out of the next five games, with three of those games being played on the road, to advance.
If "worry" from L.A.'s Hall of Fame coach and "concern" from one of the best to ever play the game didn't do anything for the Lakers' chances Game 2, then desperation would appear to be the only logical step.