Mavericks vs. Lakers: Shaq's jersey retirement preludes battle of desperate teams

Ronald Martinez

Shaquille O'Neal's Los Angeles Lakers jersey will be revealed in the Staples Center rafters, but the game against the Dallas Mavericks pits two desperate teams against one another.

A meeting between the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night encompasses a large chunk of history for the home team in Staples Center, but it also dictates the near-future.

Shaquille O'Neal's jersey will be retired before the game between the Western Conference's ninth and 10th teams in the standings, and the symbolism for the evening couldn't be more perfect. With point guard Steve Nash out of the game because of hip and hamstring injuries, Kobe Bryant will have even more of the pressure on him to produce in front of his old running mate. But pressure is also on Dwight Howard to make a mightily-significant game go the Lakers' way.

For the Lakers as a whole, beating Dallas would put the Mavs 2.5 games behind them in the playoff race, all while pulling even with the Utah Jazz, who enter Tuesday are 39-36.

A Lakers' loss would bring Dallas only a half-game from Los Angeles in the standings and the Mavs within 1.5 games of eighth-place Utah.

The Lakers have lost four of their last six, but they've won 11-of-13 in Staples Center. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki's Mavericks are streaking and have won 10-of-14 games. Making matters more dire for the Lakers, dropping to the lottery would rob them of a first-round draft pick that goes to the Phoenix Suns.

How Howard plays could allude to his legacy as a Laker.

O'Neal, earlier this season, said that the Brooklyn Nets' Brook Lopez was a better big man. And Howard's adoption of the Superman moniker, not to mention his similar path from the Orlando Magic to Los Angeles, has put him in O'Neal's shadow.

Now, there will be O'Neal's jersey hanging over his head, a material reminder that Howard has a heck of a hill to climb to earn respect in the City of Angels.

So Tuesday night's game should be an opportunity for Howard to build his résumé in that regard. That, or it'll give the Mavericks another life to make the postseason.

What if?

While neither the Lakers nor the Mavs have thoughts of tanking, Dallas might regret avoiding the practice two decades ago. In the 1991-92 season, the Mavericks won their last two games and effectively swapped lottery slots with the Orlando Magic.

With the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 draft, the Magic selected, who else, but Shaquille O'Neal. As the Dallas Morning News chronicled in its April 3, 2003 edition of the paper, that could forever haunt the franchise.

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

TV: TNT

Odds: The Lakers opened as five-point favorites.

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