The only true rivalry in the NBA will have its first showcase of the season in Beantown tonight. The Lakers (23-26) and Boston Celtics (25-23) are dealing with key injuries, but the purple and gold will most likely be without their 2 star big men.
The Celtics lost starting point guard Rajon Rondo for the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee against Atlanta. However, Boston has rallied since hearing the bad news and have yet to lose a game at 5-0 without their floor general.
The Lakers, however, have yet to get a break when it comes to injuries. They've already lost Jordan Hill to a season-ending hip injury early January, and Dwight Howard will probably miss his 4th consecutive game after re-aggravating his right shoulder in a loss to Phoenix. Now, they will miss Pau Gasol for at least 6 weeks due to a partial tear on the plantar fascia of his right foot.
With 33 games left in the season, Los Angeles is trying to make ground to take over the 8th spot in the west from Houston to make the playoffs. The Rockets lost to Miami last night, so the Lakers will need to beat the Celtics tonight to get within 2 and a half game of Houston. But without their best frontcourt players, they have to play as a team on both basket even more tonight.
Metta World Peace, who will play tonight after serving a 1-game suspension against Brooklyn, usually gives Paul Pierce a lot of fits on defense mainly because he has zero physical edge over Metta. Pierce's wide body and strength are problems to most small forwards, but not MWP. However, Metta can't be overly physical against him since Pierce loves to flop whenever he gets contact on his dribble drives. If Metta continues to play solid D on Pierce, Boston will be forced to go somewhere else to get points.
One of those is Kevin Garnett. KG doesn't usually look to score much, but with Rondo out, he's been one of those who had stepped up offensively. He dropped a season-high 27 points on Toronto last night and added 10 rebounds. If Howard doesn't play, the Lakers won't have the size to match with Garnett. But what Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison can do is to make him a shot-creator and playmaker. KG is no longer that quick, athletic forward we used to know, so he does most of his damage outside. Clark and Jamison have to mix it up by forcing him to his left and keep their body on his right shoulder to pressure him on his shot release.
If the Lakers are to win tonight, they will have to ride the shoulders of both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
Bryant has a tough task balancing his shot-taking and playmaking duties. Doc Rivers will most likely give him different looks defensively starting with Courtney Lee and will probably end with Jeff Green. The Celtics is one of those teams in the league that Kobe LOVES to stick it to.
He'll be tempted numerous times to take over the shooting load, but it's a must for him to keep Boston guessing by setting up his teammates before scoring. Without a threat in the post, the Celtics will be relentless in sending that secondary defender at him whenever he gets near the paint. Kobe has to look at that as a chance to hit an open teammate rather than a personal challenge of making a shot over good defense.
Nash won't have Rondo to deal with but will have athletic and hard-nosed defender Avery Bradley hounding him tonight. But Steve has always been one crafty veteran who always seems to have an answer for every defender he comes across. What he needs to do is to continue to look for his shot and convert those open looks.
The Lakers are facing a tough-defensive team with a lot of experienced veterans. Great ball movement and tons of activity on offense will take care of that defense. The key is for the Lakers to remember that for 48 minutes.
This is the 5th stop of this 7-game road trip for the Lakers. With the win in Brooklyn, they are now 3-1. The Lakers are looking for their 5th-straight regular season win against the Celtics in Boston and 4th-straight win overall. They swept last season's series versus Boston, 2-0. The last time the Lakers lost at TD Garden was back in Game 5 of the 2010 NBA Finals.
Matchup of the Game
L.A. Bench vs. Boston Bench: Without Pau, the 2nd unit for the Lakers will need to make their shots if they are to come out victorious tonight. Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks will be the main focal point for offense off the bench. Antawn Jamison might join them if Robert Sacre starts in place of Howard and Gasol. Regardless, the bench for the Lakers has to at least match the production of the Celtic bench on both ends of the floor.
Keys to the Game
> Teamwork: Just like in Brooklyn, the Lakers can't win this game if they don't play as a team. Period. They have to come out with energy from the get-go and sustain that throughout.
> Rebounding: The Celtics are the 2nd-worse rebounding team in the league because of their lack of size and athleticism in their frontcourt. However, the Lakers are without their biggest players to patrol the boards. They will have to rebound as a committee again if they want to win.
> Turnovers: Boston is 4th in the NBA in steals (8.6 steals per game) and in forced turnovers (15.9 per game). It would do the Lakers a lot of good if they are mindful of their passing and decision-making tonight.
Watch Out For
LAKERS: Earl Clark: He was instrumental in the win against the Nets on Tuesday. Then again, the Lakers wouldn't have a chance at gaining momentum for the playoffs without him. What makes Clark a difficult player to deal with for the opposing team is his versatility. Stopping one area of his game will not completely negate his effectiveness on the court. I doubt even Boston has the abillity to shut him down.
CELTICS: Jason Terry: Another player who always seems to save his best for the Lakers. He's an unabashed shooter who will let it fly from behind the arc out of curls, screens, spot-ups and in transition. Terry can be a difficult cover for any team. Whoever guards him tonight can't stray away from him or go underneath screens.
Tonight @ Boston Celtics
Tip-off: 5:00 p.m. (PST)
TV: TNT (national)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
LAKERS: Jordan Hill (hip) out for the season. Pau Gasol (foot) out indefinitely. Dwight Howard (shoulder) is day-to-day.
CELTICS: Rajon Rondo (knee) and Jared Sullinger (back) are out for the season.