There are very few sure things in life. Death is one. Taxes are another. That the Los Angeles Lakers will lose to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs is not one of those things, but it's pretty damn close. All season long, the Lakers have been beset by a ridiculous string of injuries. The injuries have been significant. The injuries have often been suffered by the Lakers best players. But the most important, and most damaging, aspect of all these injuries has been how targeted the injuries were.
Steve Nash played 50 games this season and Steve Blake played 45. Both of them, essentially, lost half the season due to injury, which sucks and is unusual, but what made the injuries so awful was that, of the 32 games that Nash missed and the 37 games that Blake missed, 23 of those games were missed together. Losing your top point guard for a long time is awful. Losing your backup point guard for a long time sucks. Losing them both at the same time is untenable.
That is the best word to describe this entire Lakers season. Untenable. Dwight Howard missed just six games all year, and three of them came just as Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol also went down with injuries, leaving the Lakers with nothing but their 4th option at center and 3rd option at power forward. Metta World Peace had to have knee surgery at the exact moment the Lakers needed all hands on deck just to make the playoffs. And now, the fates have saved the worst for last. The Los Angeles Lakers enter tonight's Game 3 contest against the San Antonio Spurs, the one game they absolutely must win to salvage even the remotest of hopes of some kind of turnaround in the series, without a single healthy guard out of the four in their normal rotation. Kobe, as you are well aware, is done for the year. So too, it seems, is Steve Blake. Steve Nash and Jodie Meeks are both doubtful. The Lakers have now experienced having their top two options unavailable at the same time at four of the five positions on the floor, and the fifth is small forward, where they don't even have a 2nd option.
Remember when we thought having a point guard rotation of Darius Morris and Chris Duhon was bad? Tonight, they may need to play the full 48.The situation is untenable. The Lakers are going to lose. Maybe not tonight, but eventually. Whether the final series tally is four games or six games, the chances are extremely high that the Lakers will not be able to pull through. However, if their defeat is inevitable, the way they choose to be defeated is not. The Lakers could choose to give up, to let this latest bout of injuries be the (ton of) straw that breaks the camel's back. Or they can fight. Not to win, not with the hope of glory. They can fight because there is nothing else to do but fight.
There are some battles that you just cannot walk away from, even if you are virtually guaranteed to lose. The Lakers can't sue the Spurs for peace. They can't raise a white flag in hopes of mercy. There will be at least two more basketball games in this series whether LA shows up or not. So, if giving up will result in the same thing as not giving up, they might as well fight to the bitter end. They should fight for their pride, and fight for each other, and fight to be remembered as men who do not stop fighting even when the fight is hopeless.
It is perhaps the greatest irony of all that the opponent in all this is the San Antonio Spurs, because one of history's greatest examples of courage in the face of an unwinnable fight comes from San Antonio. In early 1836, roughly 200 Texians and volunteers garrisoned at The Alamo were surrounded and besieged for two weeks by 1500 Mexicans. Faced with no hope for victory, the Texians nonetheless stood firm taking down three of their enemy for every man. By the end of the final assault, there was not a single Texan defender alive.
There is an anecdote of the Battle of The Alamo (which may or may not have happened) that is especially important: With the final battle, and certain defeat, looming, the fort commander William Travis drew a line in the sand and asked every man who was willing to fight to the death to cross it. All but one of the men did. You can bet, if there is to be any fight in the Los Angeles Lakers tonight, there will be a version of this moment in the locker room. Somebody will look everybody else in the eye and acknowledge the facts of the situation: Yes, many of our best perimeter players are out. Yes, we are short-handed and facing a very good team. Yes, it will be a struggle. So what are you going to do about it. Are you going to sulk and whine about the misfortune facing you? Or are you going to fight with every last bit of energy in your body until you have nothing left?
The Battle of The Alamo was, by definition, a defeat for the Texians. But, unlike the countless other battles in the countless other wars across history, the defeat ended up standing for something more. Less than two months later, the Mexicans were tossed out of Texas at the Battle of San Jacinto, with many of the Texian soliders shouting "Remember the Alamo". Thus did a gallant defeat turn into a symbol used for later victory. That is what is at stake tonight. The Lakers don't have good odds of winning the game. The odds of them winning the series are nearly non-existent. But, even if they are to be defeated, they can do something honorable, something worthy of remembrance.
Unlike that battle, the lives of the Lakers are not at stake tonight. No matter what happens (unless the injury bug takes a VERY severe turn), everyone will survive the encounter. So, when the Lakers remember what happens in this unwinnable situation, it will be the same Lakers who faced the situation in the first place. Next year, when (almost) everyone is healthy, when there is a new war with new battles to be fought, and hopefully the basketball gods are less cruel, the remaining members of the Los Angeles Lakers will look into each other's eyes once again, and they will remember what takes place here, will remember how their comrades responded in the face of insurmountable defeat. Here's to hoping they provide themselves the same kind of symbol that might lead them to future glory.
Remember the Alamo.