You know, after the initial shock and depression has worn off, the thought occurred to me that we hung with the Lakers last year without a healthy Manu. I don't know that I'd say we should have beaten them, but we certainly could have: we should have held on in Game 1, and possibly Game 5, even without Manu. Manu's random threes were a big factor in the Game 3 win, but it's not hard to imagine RMJ or Bon-Bon having an unusually hot shooting night (ok, it is hard to imagine Bonner doing that, but he did do that against the Celtics in Boston).
In fact, given how much Manu was hurting, he might have been hurting the team by playing for several reasons:
1. The guys would subconsciously be relying on him, and would grow discouraged when he couldn't dominate scrubs like Vujacic.
2. He was keeping a healthier player off the court. Last year, that probably meant fewer minutes for Brent Barry, and this year that would be RMJ or Hill.It might even mean more minutes for KT and Drew Gooden, given Pop's affinity for Tinyball (because lack of quality smalls means he'll be forced to play a bigger lineup, or, fingers crossed, more JV!).
3. Tony didn't have the total green light to shoot whenever he felt like it. You can see that Manu's touches have been negatively affecting Tony this year. Tony plays much better when he decides that he has to score a ton of points himself, like against Atlanta this year.
What eez eet zat you say, Pop? You want me to score more? Zat eez what Eva said! Ha ha!
Seriously, I have one word for you: OK! Maybe zat was two words? Oh well, you get zee point...
So, do the Spurs have a chance without Manu? The team has better wing players and better big men than last year, which, as I mentioned, played the Lakers very close. Tony is now capable of scoring 30+ any given night, which was not the case last year. They now have another big man who can score in Drew Gooden, and who could be called upon to guard Gasol or even Odom, which would help prevent us from being pasted on the offensive glass. KT seems to be in better shape, is more acclimated to the team, and is playing much better than last year.
On the down side, TD is obviously hurting, and probably won't be himself for the remainder of the year. It is possible that he's not going all out right now, though, but will suck it up and really play hard when the POs start. There is some precedent for this hope: his plantar fasciitis had him hobbling against the Mavs in 2006, then he dropped 40 on them in game 7 (the hidden reason Dallas won: Keith Van Horn coming out of nowhere to hit 3 threes after having been inactive for weeks).
Lastly, the Lakers have Andrew Bynum coming back. There is at least a chance that his return will mess with their mojo, the same way Manu's return seemed to discombobulate the Spurs for the last few weeks. They're obviously a better team in the long run with Bynum, but if you caught them in the adjustment period? You could imagine a scenario where Pau or Odom played very passively and deferentially in a loss with Bynum back. Then, the Lakers bench Bynum, but Odom doesn't come through again, leading to a full-blown ESPN melodrama, where the topic is beaten to death on PTI, Around the Horn, Mike & Mike, etc.
ESPN likes melodramas...
Odom goes into the tank for the rest of the series, Kobe decides that he and he alone must take every shot, because his teammates are a bunch of bozos...
Far-fetched? Yes, and no. I'm not at all saying I think the Spurs have a 50-50 shot at winning a title. I guess I'd peg the odds at something like 5% that all that would come to pass (and John Hollinger would probably agree). That 5% chance will keep me tuned in to the playoffs this year. Who's with me?
I'm drawing a line in the sand. Cross the line, you get to die defending the Alamo from 4000 Mexicans, but on the plus side, you could be portrayed by John Wayne in a movie 100 years from now. Who's John Wayne? He's an actor who pretends to be a cowboy. Trust me, he'll be huge. It'll be awesome. Who's with me?