Connecting the dots: Lakers in trouble

"Dot-dot-dot." -- Kobe Bryant after the Lakers' Game 2 blowout loss to the Mavs.

That was Mamba's way of telling J.A. Adande late Wednesday night that the Dallas-L.A. series isn't over, no matter how dire the Lakers' situation looks after two home losses.

We're taking Kobe's dots and giving them to five writers from Dallas and Los Angeles to get their views on where Kobe, Phil Jackson, Dirk Nowitzki, the Lakers and the Mavs stand now.

Here's 5-on-5:

1. Kobe Bryant is ...



J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: ... going to have to fill in the blanks. We've been waiting for him to take over, finish and deliver playoff victories this postseason. Hasn't happened the way we're used to it happening.

Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas: ... suddenly a one-dimensional offensive player. One of the best slashers in NBA history is settling for jumpers in this series. He's 2-of-7 on shots inside 10 feet this round and 21-of-42 on midrange and long jumpers. He's still getting his points, but the Lakers' offense gets stagnant when all Kobe does is crank up jumpers.

Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: ... toying with his legacy. He already has two Finals losses offsetting those five rings of his, and a second-round flameout of this magnitude, with everything set up for the Lakers to three-peat, will always be remembered when you assess his career.

Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles: ... trying this whole Zen thing out. The "Kobe face" thing is kinda old. If the Lakers are going out, he's playing this like Phil would.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: ... weirdly relaxed. Or at least that's the impression he was trying hard to leave at the interview podium Wednesday night with his we-can-still-do-this calm and his hallway warnings about the dangers of writing off the Lakers. I have to believe that left ankle is bugging him way more than he's letting on if it's Game 3 and we're still waiting for his first layup or dunk ... but he still knows how to plant a seed of doubt just when you think the Lakers are finito.

2. Phil Jackson is ...



J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: ... running out of time. His teams figure out opponents five or six games into a series most times. In this one, they could be either eliminated or pushed to the brink by Game 5.

Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas: ... probably having a hard time laughing. Jackson mentioned before Game 2 that he wanted the Lakers to have a lighthearted attitude instead of tightening up. Well, there's nothing funny about a 2-0 deficit and one of your best players (Andrew Bynum) publicly complaining about "trust issues."

Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: ... patient. The Lakers have played 98 games this season from the start of training camp through the first two rounds of the playoffs and still haven't developed any game-to-game consistency. Rather than drastically shuffle the starting lineup or change how the team operates, Jackson continues to stay the course, holding on to the belief that his team will get to where it needs to be.

Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles: ... probably starting to wonder whether Luc Longley can move up their snorkeling trip and whether this "Last Stand" thing was such a good idea. He had to try for the three-peat, and I don't think he's going to regret doing it. But this season never felt quite right, and with another two losses, it's going to end wrongly.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: ... as jokey as he's ever been in dire circumstances. Almost every answer we've gotten from him is some sort of quip. Which almost makes me think he not only senses the end is near but is resigned to it.

3. Dirk Nowitzki is ...



J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: ... a matchup problem for the Lakers and making teammates better by taking defensive attention away from them. He isn't having a monster series, but he's been the best player on the court.

Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas: ... doing what he usually does during the playoffs. He's one of four players in NBA history with 25-point, 10-rebound career playoff averages, so it's no surprise that he's averaging 27 and 8.5 during this postseason. But this could be a legacy-defining playoff run for Dirk if the Mavericks continue to play dominant defense.

Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: ... cementing his legacy, as is Jason Kidd. If Nowitzki and Kidd went down with just three Finals losses between them when it was all said and done, the greatness of their careers might not have been fully appreciated, even though they are two of the 10 best players in the league over the past 15 years. By taking out Bryant and Jackson in their final season together, Nowitzki and Kidd bump up a notch.

Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles: ... hoping you'll notice he hasn't frozen yet in this series. Seriously, can we give Dirk some credit? He's been virtually unguardable the first two games and at his best in the fourth quarter.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: ... finally getting the national attention he deserves for the steady improvements he's made since the Mavs' first-round flameout against Golden State in 2007. The way he picks defenses apart, without a steady No. 2 scorer at his side ... let's just say he's on the very short list of guys who get better every year. Even after 13 seasons.

4. The Dallas Mavericks are ...

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: ... not invincible, but they're not beating themselves. They're sticking to what they do, and now that list includes defense. They still have a hot shooting night in store.

Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas: ... what they thought they were. The Mavs kept telling us they were a mentally tough team. They've proved it with the way they responded to an embarrassing collapse at the Rose Garden in Round 1. They've won four straight games after blowing a 23-point lead in Game 4 against Portland, including three on the road.

Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: ... playing good, but not great, defense. The Mavs held L.A. to 32 points in the second half of Game 2, but plenty of the 18 3-pointers the Lakers missed that game were open and rimmed out. Same goes for some of the looks inside that Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol haven't been able to convert to open the series. As good as Dallas should feel about itself, it hasn't been as dominant as the series record suggests right now.

Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles: ... trying very hard not to think about a potential Finals rematch with Miami. Who ever thought that was a possibility?

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: ... playing the best D I've ever seen them play when it matters and reveling in the fact that roughly 95 percent of the national scrutiny burden is on the Lakers this season. The reality, though, is that changes if Dallas drops Game 3. If the Mavs can't finish L.A. off from the position they're in now, this series will hurt almost as much as the 2006 Finals.

5. The Los Angeles Lakers are ...

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: ... looking worn down. There's no spring in their step; everything seems like it's a burden. Problem is, there are no corners left to cut. They exhausted all of their shortcuts.

Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas: ... phenomenal fodder for the reality show starring Lamar Odom and his celebrity bride. It looks like this is the dramatic crumbling of a dynasty. However, this is the same team that blew out the Mavs in March. I'll hold off on declaring the Lakers dead until the Mavs finish off their fourth win.

Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: ... hanging by a thread. If they don't win Game 3, this series is over. No Boston Red Sox-like comeback in store for these guys.

Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles: ... hanging by a very thin thread. There's a reason only four teams have advanced to four straight NBA Finals. It's really hard. The Lakers are figuring out just how badly they still want it.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: ... on fumes. They've thrown away home-court advantage and now they've got to win two games on the road in what will almost feel like a back-to-back with the short turnaround between Games 3 and 4. Do they have enough energy and chemistry left to pull together and pull even? The universal respect for what Kobe & Co. have achieved over the past three seasons makes you think the Lakers can go to Dallas and win two games, but all the evidence we have from this series suggests otherwise.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
J.A. Adande and Marc Stein are senior writers for ESPN.com. Dave McMenamin and Ramona Shelburne write for ESPN Los Angeles. Tim MacMahon writes for ESPN Dallas.
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