Game Preview: Celtics at Lakers

BOSTON - Friday night wasn't a pleasant one for the two most storied franchises in the NBA.

A sub-500 Suns team took down the Boston Celtics (35-11) in Phoenix, and the lowly Sacramento Kings stunned the Los Angeles Lakers (33-14) on their home court. On the heels of those losses, the two championship contenders will attempt to bounce back when they collide at 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon in the Staples Center.

Sunday's meeting between the Celtics and Lakers will be the first since Game 7 of last season's NBA Finals, where Los Angeles took home its 16th championship, now trailing only the Celtics' 17 titles. Each team has retooled its roster since that game and added depth to its bench.

Although neither team will be completely healthy for their first matchup of the season, numerous pieces will take part in this game that weren't around for last season's Finals.

Boston will showcase Shaquille O'Neal in green and white for the first time in front of his former Laker fans, and the C's will also have Kendrick Perkins, who was injured in Game 6 of last year's Finals, available for his fourth straight game. Rookies Semih Erden and Luke Harangody will close out the new additions on Boston's frontline, while Von Wafer and an improved Marquis Daniels will help the C's on the perimeter off the bench. The C's are still without their top guard off the bench, Delonte West, and Jermaine O'Neal as the two continue to rehab their injuries.

Los Angeles didn't have quite as much turnover since the Finals, but they certainly have some new and important pieces. Much like Perkins, Andrew Bynum recently returned to the Lakers' lineup and is healthy after offseason knee surgery. Los Angeles also brought in Steve Blake to be their backup point guard and has veterans Joe Smith and Theo Ratliff as reserves on the frontline. Ratliff has played in only eight games this season and will not be available for this game as he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery.

While all of those pieces are essential to each team's attempt to return to the Finals this season, we all know that the real power is held within each team's core. Boston's Big Three has officially turned into the Big Four as Rajon Rondo continues to assert himself as one of the league's premier point guards. Kobe Bryant, who is sixth in the league in scoring, is still operating the triangle offense with precision alongside Pau Gasol, Bynum, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Derek Fisher.

Each team's core is the reason they are contenders, but those cores whiffed on Friday night.

The Celtics were faced with an extremely difficult turnaround when they took on the Suns in Phoenix one night after knocking off the Trail Blazers in Portland. The top shooting team in the NBA, Boston clearly wasn't itself and made only 34.2 percent of its shots against a porous Phoenix defense. The Celts also committed 19 turnovers, seven of which were by Rondo. He has totaled 13 turnovers in his last two games, compared to only 11 assists.

While Boston stumbled its way around the Suns, the Lakers were busy being shocked by the Kings. Los Angeles also had a terrible shooting night, making only 41.2 percent of its shots, and allowed Sacramento to make 51.2 percent of its shots. Bryant, who scored 38 points in the game, was the only Laker starter who totaled more than 12 points.

Neither Boston nor Los Angeles was able to show off their A-game on Friday, but it's a near guarantee that both will come to center court ready for a great performance during this game. It will be much more difficult for the C's to do, as they'll be playing their third road contest in four days, but the energy that will be in the building will surely bring out their best.

Avoid the Nostalgia

There's no doubt that when the Celtics take the court, some sore memories will begin to replay in their heads. Boston believes that it should have been celebrating in the Staples Center after Game 7, and they will surely begin to think about that during warm-ups.

That's where those thoughts need to be left. The C's must avoid bringing those thoughts into the actual game, or they will likely miss out on a big road win. When the jump ball is tossed, the veteran Boston squad has to play with a clear mind and poise, and if they do, good things will happen.

Tough To Win in Staples Center

This may sound like a false statement, seeing as the Lakers just fell to the Kings in L.A., but they are one of the top home teams in the league when playing at home, boasting a 18-6 mark at Staples.

The reason for that record may not be Los Angeles' play as much as it is its opponents' performances. Los Angeles' statistics are shockingly very similar at home as they are on the road, with slight increases across the board. The only dramatic increase is in assists, as it dishes out 23.7 dimes per game at home as opposed to 21.0 per game on the road.

With Los Angeles not playing dramatically better at home, at least statistically, this means that the environment of playing the defending champions in Los Angeles is likely intimidating the opponents. The Celtics have been here before and already shown that they can win in this arena. This will be their first opportunity to prove such again since their devastating loss on June 17 of last year.

Great ‘D' Can Lead to Win

It's no secret that the Celtics are one of the top defensive teams in the league, and news is starting to break that the Lakers aren't very adept at dealing with staunch defenses. When Los Angeles has lost this season, it has been because their offense has been stopped.

The Lakers offensive statistics in their 14 losses are as follows: 93.4 PPG, 43.4 percent shooting from the floor and 30.0 percent shooting from downtown. In their wins, the Lakers are scoring 107.9 PPG, making 48.7 percent of their field goals and 39.4 percent of their 3-pointers.

Los Angeles' failure to win low-scoring contests is shocking this season. The Lakers have won only six games in which they have scored less than 100 points, and they have scored less than 100 points in 11 of their 14 losses. If that's not enough evidence to tell Boston that a great defensive game will likely lead to a win, we're not sure what is.