On Wednesday night, the Lakers absorbed a huge blow to their quest for a third consecutive NBA title. The Mavericks’ bench played brilliantly, sparked by point guard J.J. Barea. Barea sliced through a lifeless Los Angeles defense. The legs of the big men appeared to be set in concrete, and Steve Blake was positively torched time and again in the lane.

Add to the tepid defensive play the fact that the Lakers’ shot horribly from the outside and failed to initiate an inside-outside game and you’ve got a meltdown at Staples Center. Los Angeles missed their first 15 three-point shots, and the aforementioned Blake went 0-for-5 on the night.

Take it another step down the line. Kobe Bryant was quiet at times and got to the free throw line only five times. He shot 9-of-20 from the field (1-for-5 from three-point range) and finished with 23 points.

But forget about Bryant for a moment. I won’t even get into the Derek Fisher and Steve Blake stuff on a larger level here.

1. Pau Gasol didn’t match the intensity of Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler.
2. Ron Artest will most definitely get suspended for Game 3 after his bone-headed move to clothesline J.J. Barea in the final minute of the game. Artest had been visibly frustrated on an earlier rebound attempt and took a cheap shot to Barea (the source of much of the Lakers’ frustration on Wednesday).
3. Finally, Andrew Bynum talked of the team having “trust” issues. Was he speaking of the defensive help, as Kobe Bryant suggested? Or, was he getting into something deeper about the offensive sets and the team’s infatuation with long-distance tries?

We’ll get some kind of answer in Dallas. Artest won’t be there to take the test.