Mavs point guard JJ Barea provided the spark that gave the Mavericks a win in Game 2.
The Dallas Mavericks have seen this playoff scenario many times before.
The higher-seeded team is reeling after two embarrassing losses, with its tentative play leading to locker-room discord and wholesale fan panic.
It's just that the Mavs are usually living this nightmare, not causing it for somebody else -- and certainly not for the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers, who left Staples Center on Wednesday night wondering whether they'll be back this spring.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 24 points, Shawn Marion added 14 and the Mavericks beat Los Angeles 93-81 in Game 2, taking a 2-0 second-round lead with consecutive road wins.
"If you would have told me before that were going to win both games, that would have been hard to believe," Nowitzki said. "But I think we earned it."
Jason Kidd scored 10 points in a balanced scoring effort for the Mavericks, who pushed the Lakers halfway to playoff elimination with Nowitzki's stellar shooting, steady defense and a decisive 9-0 fourth-quarter rally. Dallas did nothing spectacularly well, yet was significantly better than the cold-shooting Lakers on both ends.
Dallas has endured a decade of playoff disappointment under owner Mark Cuban, including just one playoff series victory in the previous four postseasons since the Mavericks' only NBA finals appearance.
Time and again, Nowitzki and his revolving cast of teammates have flopped in pressure playoff situations -- but these taller, tougher Mavs certainly appear primed to change their reputation with two more wins, starting in Game 3 on Friday night in Dallas.
"We talked about it, and this series is far from over," said Nowitzki, who again proved to be nearly unguardable for the Lakers. "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, lost both home games ... and came back and won in Game 7. We've seen a lot of things happen in this league. We have to stay focused, stay together."
Kobe Bryant scored 23 points for the Lakers, who hadn't lost the first two games of a playoff series since the 2008 NBA finals -- also the last series they lost. Only three NBA teams have come back to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first two at home, where dismayed fans sent the Lakers off with boos and jeers.
"Desperate? That's a strong word," Bryant said. "I think when you play desperate, you don't play your best basketball. What we need to do is relax, focus on what we're doing wrong and the mistakes that we're making, and we have plenty to review and lock in on that."
Los Angeles missed its first 15 3-point attempts before Bryant's 3-pointer with 2:43 left. Los Angeles finished 2 for 20 on 3-pointers, but the Lakers also appeared simply exhausted during long stretches of their 75th playoff game in the last four seasons.
Center Andrew Bynum saw another reason for the Lakers' frustrations.
"It's deeply rooted at this point. It's obvious that we have trust issues, individually," said Bynum, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds. "All 13 of our guys have trust issues right now. I think it's quite obvious to anyone watching the game -- hesitation on passes, and defensively we're not being a good teammate because he wasn't there for you before -- little things. And unless we come out and discuss them, nothing is going to change."
Bryant wrote off Bynum's comments as concerns about the Lakers' defensive communication.
"I think the trust that he's referring to is being able to help each other on the defensive end of the floor," Bryant said. "You saw a lot of layups. He gets frustrated when he supports a guard coming off the screen-and-roll and nobody supports him."
But Los Angeles also could be without its defensive stopper in Dallas: Ron Artest was ejected with 24.4 seconds left for clotheslining Dallas guard J.J. Barea, possibly leading to a suspension. Even Lakers coach Phil Jackson conceded "there's a good chance" he won't have Artest on Friday.
"It's not a basketball play, so we'll see what happens," Barea said.
The Mavericks protected the rim and largely controlled the tempo in Game 2, using their advantages in depth and athleticism to limit the Lakers' offense.
Barea had 12 points and four assists, and he led the Mavs' fourth-quarter rally while Cuban led the cheers behind Dallas' bench. Even Bryant was powerless to stop it, going scoreless in the fourth until hitting two free throws with 3:11 to play.
Bynum and Pau Gasol haven't been able to control the paint with their usual vehemence against the Mavericks' three 7-footers. Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds, but appeared tentative for long stretches while struggling to contain Nowitzki.
Nowitzki came out firing again in Game 2, scoring 15 points in the first half with the 7-footer's usual array of impossible-to-block fallaway jumpers. The Lakers ran several defenders at him, using Gasol and Lamar Odom before trying Artest in the second quarter.
NOTES: Bryant has 5,246 career playoff points, trailing former teammate Shaquille O'Neal by two points for third place on the NBA's career playoff scoring list. O'Neal is injured and sitting for the Boston Celtics this spring. ... Dallas is the most recent NBA team to win a series after losing the first two games at home, doing it in 2005 against Houston. ... Fans near courtside included Larry David, directors McG and Brett Ratner, Bridget Moynahan, Eliza Dushku, George Lopez, Dax Shepard, Anthony Anderson, Holly Robinson Peete and Jaime Murray.