When the Lakers lost Game One, it seed that there might be problems in La-La Land.
Kobe Bryant told the press that he concerned about the Dallas Mavericks in the series after the Lakers lost by two points.
Said Bryant after the game: This team can beat us. It's clear.
It's probable that Bryant made that comment to motivate his teammates.
Too bad for Bryant, the Lakers didn't get the message, and put together a second lackluster performance at Staples Center.
A big reason for the loss was Dirk Nowitzki. Though Bryant is known for being a great competitor, there's no question that Nowitzki wants to win about as bad.
Bryant and Nowitzki aren't friends, aren't rivals, and aren't well acquainted. But they're equals when it comes to competing. Both play with a chip on their shoulders.
The Lakers seem to have no answer for Nowitzki. The Mavericks' big man has punished the Lakers with his outside shooting, and his runners. He's been a migraine for a team with enough headaches.
Lamar Odom might see more time defending Nowitzki, but it probably won't make a difference. Nowitzki is among the best shooters in the NBA, and even the tallest and most athletic players in the league will would trouble defending him.
What's interesting about Game Three for Nowitzki has been in a similar situation before. With the Mavericks leading the Miami Heat 2-0 in the 2006 NBA Finals, Dallas folded in the next four games.
Nowitzki never returned to the Finals, and tthat memory still probably lingers.
So now Nowitzki has the defending champions with their backs up against the wall, and it's time to close them out.
The Mavericks got help from an unlikely source: Juan Jose Barea. But will the diminutive point guard come back with a similar performance in Game Two?
As much as the Mavs can feel comfortable with their 2-0 lead, and their star scorer in Nowitzki, they know that Bryant is lurking with his scowl.
Bryant shot well in the first two games, but Dallas can expect him to be pumped up for Game Three. The Black Mamba is chasing NBA Championship Number Six, and that means going down 3-0 is unthinkable.
The Lakers believe in their star, so isolations for Bryant might be in order. But Bryant will have to put together a scoring run in the first half if the Lakers expect to hold off Dallas on their home court. Late game heroics might be too risky when down 2-0.
Bryant has other scoring options, but like Nowitzki, he trusts himself more than anyone else. it's no wonder the press went to Bryant when teammate Andrew Bynum said the team has trust issues.
If this comes down to who wants it more, Bryant has a small edge. There isn't a player in the NBA who works harder in the off-season than Bryant. He might be the most determined individual in sports.
For Nowitzki, he needs to prove that the 2006 Finals were a fluke, and he's a winner.