Game Preview: Lakers at Celtics
A seemingly lackluster renewal of the greatest rivalry in NBA history will now get plenty of attention.
Rajon Rondo playing with the Boston Celtics for the first time in nearly a year would provide a jolt to Friday night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers in a matchup of storied franchises.
The Lakers being in Boston is generally a hot ticket, but that didn't seem to be the case this year with Kobe Bryant (knee) still out, the Celtics having disbanded the Big Three and these teams separated by a half-game for the league's fifth-worst record.
Rondo's return changes that. He last played Jan. 25 when he tore his ACL.
The four-time All-Star practiced with the Celtics on Thursday morning, after which general manager Danny Ainge said he would play Friday "barring any setbacks."
"He'll probably be playing five minutes a quarter, approximately," Ainge said via the team's official Twitter feed. "Knowing Rondo, he'll probably complain about that."
The speedy point guard hinted Tuesday this game would mark his comeback, sending a tweet saying "29,233,380 secs" - an apparent reference to the time between his knee surgery and Friday's tipoff.
Rondo was sent to the Maine Red Claws - Boston's NBA Development League affiliate - for a workout Wednesday afternoon but was recalled to the Celtics less than two hours later. He joined the team for warmups shortly before that night's matchup with Toronto and was in uniform on the bench for the game.
Coach Brad Stevens said using him wasn't an option even with the team short-handed from a trade earlier in the day, not to mention fans chanting "Rondo! Rondo!" down the stretch of a tight game.
"I think the community is excited, as it should be, and the players are excited as well," Stevens said of welcoming back Rondo, whose 10.2 assists per game since the start of 2008-09 is tops in the NBA.
"... He gets the ball to people better than anybody around. But I don't think we can expect him to be Game 7 Rajon Rondo."
Another indication Rondo's return was imminent came with Jordan Crawford, who was serving as the starting point guard, being shipped to Golden State along with MarShon Brooks in a three-team deal. Boston received center Joel Anthony, two draft picks and cash considerations from Miami.
Even without Crawford or Rondo running the point Wednesday, the Celtics halted a nine-game losing streak with an 88-83 victory over the Raptors.
With Boston having avoided its worst slide since 2007, Los Angeles now tries to do the same. The Lakers have lost 12 of 13 with a pair of six-game losing streaks, and they haven't had a longer one since dropping seven in a row March 2-15, 2007. They've also lost seven straight away from home, having kicked off a seven-game trip with a 121-114 defeat in Phoenix on Wednesday.
Los Angeles has given up an average of 120.7 points during its six-game skid.
"We're having trouble keeping up with athleticism in the open court and at the rim," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "... Defensively we have a hard time stopping people at the rim."
Driving to the rim is how Rondo likes to score, something that could benefit a Boston team shooting 40.8 percent over the last 10 games.
This is the first game between these teams, who met in the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals, in which both entered with losing records since 2005-06 - the season before Boston got Rondo.
He missed both matchups last season - each team won on the other's home floor - as did Pau Gasol, who is averaging 20.4 points and 10.9 rebounds over his last eight games.
Lakers leading scorer Nick Young has been suspended for this game after throwing a punch at Phoenix's Goran Dragic with 7:33 left in the second quarter Wednesday. He was annoyed by his teammates not coming to his defense.
"What I'm mad about is it was 1-on-5," Young said. "I felt like if someone would have gotten in the middle of everything it wouldn't have escalated as much."