7:30 p.m PDT
It's a big night for the city of Los Angeles. The Dallas Mavericks are coming to town and could deliver a fatal blow to the Lakers' pursuit of the eighth playoff seed. The Lakers have been reeling through the final stretch of their season and find themselves in another dark, dreary dungeon they must escape from. Making things worse, Steve Nash will be out in a key game for the Lakers. Back to where the Lakers started the season.
Yet, all of this receives pause when considering the magnitude of the night. The number 34 is going to hang in the rafters at Staples Center from tonight going forward, joining the banners it helped usher into Staples Center. Yes, the great Shaquille O'Neal will have his jersey retired tonight, and despite the minced words over the years, it really doesn't matter.
Shaq is Shaq. He will always be Shaq, and we will always dig it. His utter dominance in the purple and gold, and throughout his career, stands as one of the most amazing forces to blow through the National Basketball Association. With the addition of Shaq, along with a prodigious basketball player out of Lower Merion High School, the Lakers rose to the top once again because they're the Lakers, and because Shaq and Kobe Bryant served as one of the greatest duos to ever play the game of basketball together.
The effects still flow in the veins of the Lakers and have been injected into one Dwight Howard. Though, Howard has long been under the shadow The Big Aristotle has cast down upon the league as he too made the voyage from the Orlando Magic to the Lakers.
We don't know if Dwight will ever bring titles to Los Angeles. We don't even know if it will be more than a one year rental of a Superman who has yet to save Metropolis. What we do know is everything about the big shoes he has yet to fill.
Beyond all this, though, Howard has looked impressive since the All-Star break. The injuries that weighed him down fall off of his body with each rebound he chases down, shot he soars up to reject, and alley oop he hammers down on his opponents. It's unlikely that Howard will ever be the unstoppable force that Shaq was, which is more a testament to just how great Shaq-Diesel was more so than a slap in the face of Howard, but still something to consider.
In the present day, though, the Lakers are locked in a dog fight that could very well leave them as a team that watches the Phoenix Suns take their draft pick to the lottery. The Lakers are now a half-game behind the Utah Jazz but a game and a half ahead of the Mavericks. Time is running out and the three-game losing streak they put on could prevail as the final nail in the coffin as Utah continues to play strong to end the season.
Dallas begins a four-game road trip that will be make or break for their season and will play with a desperation that will match the Lakers. With the feet-dragging we've witnessed, the injuries the Lakers have played through, and the season that has continued to test a team that couldn't have imagined much more disaster, it wouldn't be surprising if the Mavericks came out and blew the roof off of Staples Center.
The Lakers were once a team with a shot to climb to the sixth seed and that looked like a lock for the eighth seed, Now, they're hoping to just squeeze into the playoffs so they can give their best collective shot at blowing off the odds and taking on the resilient underdog role.
The Lakers with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash a resilient underdog.
All of this could mean very little should they lose on their home court to the Mavericks, giving the Jazz a full game lead with only eight games remaining. If a loss to the Mavs eventually serves as the fatality for the season, it would certainly be ironic to happen in front of both Phil Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal.
This season has served as a reminder that nothing lasts forever, and a single season's strife means very little to what the history of the franchise we love stands for. Whether or not this 2012-2013 team gets into the playoffs, makes it to the NBA Finals, or any of that means very little in the illustrious history that has been the fiber that holds the purple and gold together from generation to generation.
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- Mavs Moneyball is surely prepping for a showdown in Los Angeles.