Game Preview: Lakers at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The rivalry is back. It’s time for Celtics versus Lakers.

The two iconic franchises will meet at 8 p.m. tonight in TD Garden in front of a sold out Boston crowd and a national television audience on TNT. The Celtics (25-23) will enter the contest riding a five-game winning streak, while the Lakers (23-26) will take a three-game winning streak into the matchup.

Unfortunately, neither team will be at full strength. Both franchises have lost key players to injuries over the last couple of weeks. The Celtics will play without Rajon Rondo (torn ACL) and Jared Sullinger (lumbar disc surgery) for the remainder of the season and the Lakers are currently playing without Dwight Howard (torn labrum) and Pau Gasol (torn plantar fascia).

The season-ending injuries Boston has suffered hasn’t slowed the team down one bit. Ironically, the injuries may have helped the Celtics get better in some ways. The team now realizes that the only way it will win basketball games is if it plays together at both ends of the floor rather than leaning on specific players.

“I think we play unselfish, we play with each other. That’s all you can ask for,” Kevin Garnett said after the Celtics downed the Raptors 99-95 Wednesday night in Toronto. “You want your team’s commitment towards each other at both ends and I think we are doing that.”

Garnett’s comments couldn’t be more accurate. The Celtics have been substantially better at both ends of the floor during this five-game winning streak. Their offensive numbers of 100.2 points per game and 48.2 percent shooting are far better than the their overall season numbers. The same can be said for the defense, as it is limiting opponents to just 88.7 PPG and 41.8 percent shooting during the streak.

Los Angeles is playing solid basketball as well but two of its most recent three victories have come against teams that have only 18 wins on the season. The Lakers did, however, march into Brooklyn Tuesday night to take down the Nets by a score of 92-83.

Gasol, Garnett

Kevin Garnett won't be forced to face off with Pau Gasol tonight, as Gasol is out with an injured right foot.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

The Lakers beat the Nets thanks to a very balanced offense, which is a similar characteristic to what Boston has been showcasing lately. Four players scored between 14 and 21 points in that win over Brooklyn, led by Kobe Bryant’s 21. Los Angeles will need several players to provide that type of offense in the near future as the team continues to play without Howard and Gasol.

Those two names are likely to be missing from tonight’s game in addition to Rondo and Sullinger of the Celtics. The absence of four household names will obviously take some luster away from the matchup, but the rivalry will still pack plenty of punch. We'll still have future Hall of Fame names like Garnett, Paul Pierce, Bryant and Steve Nash out on the parquet floor.

Records are thrown out the window when these teams meet. This is a one-game playoff series where each coach will do everything it can to push its team into the win column.

Each Team’s Rest

Usually when you have a home game you’re supposed to be the more rested team. After all, it’s the opponent who has traveled to your city. Ironically, that will not be the case tonight for Boston.

The Lakers have been in Boston since Tuesday night and had all of Wednesday off. The Celtics, on the other hand, played a tough game last night in Toronto that required big minutes from Pierce (37 minutes) and Garnett (32 minutes). It’s very possible that this role reversal in terms of rest will have an effect on the way tonight’s game plays out.

Who’s the Kobe Stopper?

Well, there probably isn’t a Kobe stopper, but the Celtics must decide who will be defending Bryant for the majority of the night.

The odds are that Courtney Lee, who is a solid 6-foot-5 with great lateral quickness, will defend Bryant after the opening tip. However, he is the only player on Boston’s team who matches up well with Bryant in terms of size, speed and one-on-one defensive abilities. Leandro Barbosa, Avery Bradley and Jason Terry don’t exactly stack up very well with Bryant, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Rivers substitute Lee in the same manner that D’Antoni substitutes Bryant.

Bounce-Back Game for the Bench

Boston’s bench has been a strength during the current winning streak but it was weak Wednesday night. The team’s reserves, which had averaged 45.8 PPG over their previous five contests before Wednesday, scored just 24 total points against Toronto. Fourteen of those points came from Barbosa.

Barbosa’s main sidekicks, Terry and Jeff Green, didn't have stellar performances. They combined for just 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting and did not play much of a role in the result of the contest.

Although Boston’s bench struggled on Wednesday, it has a great opportunity to bounce back tonight. The Lakers’ roster has been shortened with its two injured big men and that means that top reserves have been thrust into the starting lineup. The trickle-down effect is that Los Angeles’ active bench group now consists of players who were previously out of the rotation. The Celtics should be able to take advantage of that in a big way.