After back-to-back wins over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Mavericks are headed home with something coach Rick Carlisle insists they expected.
These longtime playoff disappointments have a golden opportunity to knock out the two-time defending champions.
Nowitzki scored 24 points, Shawn Marion added 14 and the Mavericks stunned the erratic Lakers 93-81 in Game 2 on Wednesday night, 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 for the Mavericks, who pushed the Lakers halfway to playoff elimination with Nowitzki's stellar shooting, another steady defensive performance, 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.
"We came to compete, and we came to make something happen here," Marion said. "We made our presence felt on both ends of the floor tonight. We did a good job of handling their pressure and just going out there and doing what we've been doing all postseason, just playing good defense and just playing our style of play."
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.
"We came here to win two games," Carlisle said. "We're going to need every gun blazing and throw the kitchen sink at these guys when they come to our place."
Game 3 is Friday night in Dallas.
Los Angeles missed its first 15 3-point attempts in Game 2, only avoiding its first playoff game without a 3-pointer since May 8, 2001, on 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 Jose Juan 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.
After years of playoff underachievement during owner Mark Cuban's tenure, the Mavericks certainly appear primed to change their reputation.
Dallas, which won just one playoff series in the past four years before this spring, was more aggressive and inventive than the champs, maintaining a steady lead before breaking it open with nine straight points down the stretch in the rally led by Barea, who highlighted it with an impressive short shot directly over Bynum. Barea had 12 points and four assists.
Cuban led the cheers behind Dallas' bench as the Mavs pulled away in the fourth quarter. Not even Bryant could save the Lakers, 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.
The Mavericks protected the rim and largely controlled the tempo, using their advantages in depth and athleticism to limit the Lakers' offense. Dallas took a six-point lead into the fourth quarter and stretched it to 10 moments later before coasting home with little opposition from the Lakers, who went 7 for 20 in the final period.
"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."
Dallas rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half to win Game 1, finishing on a 9-2 run capped by four last-minute points from Nowitzki, who seems determined to erase memories of the Mavericks' past playoff failures on big stages.
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.
Bryant has 5,246 career playoff points to 5,248 for Shaquille O'Neal, in fourth place on the NBA's career playoff scoring list. The former Lakers superstar 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. ... 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.