Game Preview: Celtics at Lakers
Some called the season's first matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics the most lackluster meeting in the storied rivalry's history.
These two franchises have combined for 33 NBA championships, but are unlikely to add to that number this season. In all likelihood, both clubs will miss the playoffs in the same season for just the second time ever.
The Lakers claimed a road victory in the first meeting, 107-104 on Jan. 17, its fifth win in the last six meetings. Rajon Rondo missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in his first game back after being sidelined for a year by a torn ACL.
The teams' combined winning percentage of .354 was the lowest ever entering a head-to-head matchup in the series after the first five games of the season. The percentage will dip to .339 for this tilt, with Los Angeles going 3-11 since while Boston is 5-9 since that defeat.
Los Angeles is trying to snap a franchise-worst eight-game home losing streak after an embarrassing 134-108 loss against former Laker Dwight Howard and Houston on Wednesday. The team's trade prior to that contest likely won't provide any immediate help beyond shedding salary, as the Lakers dealt Steve Blake to Golden State in exchange for reserve guards Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks.
Kobe Bryant, whose timetable to return still remains unclear, took to Twitter to voice his thoughts on the trade, writing he was "not cool" with Blake's departure. He also called Blake one of his closest teammates and a "psycho competitor." Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni felt similarly.
"He was the backbone we had this year, and you hate to lose that," said D'Antoni, who used his 28th different starting lineup on Wednesday as the trade and injuries left him with eight players in uniform. "We've got 28 games. We're going to see if we can turn a negative thing into as much of a positive as we can. Develop the guys as much as we can and go into the summer with a little positive bounce."
D'Antoni's club at least appears to be getting healthier. Jordan Farmar and Jodie Meeks returned Wednesday after missing the previous four and five games, respectively, while Pau Gasol is expected to play after missing the last seven. D'Antoni said that Steve Nash - who has played in only 10 games - might be considered day-to-day for the rest of the season. Nick Young has missed the last five contests with a sprained left ankle while Xavier Henry (knee) likely won't be re-evaluated until next week.
Gasol had 24 points and 13 rebounds in the first matchup, and is averaging 20.5 points and 12.5 boards over his last four against the Celtics.
Boston dropped its first game following the All-Star break, taking a 100-94 loss at Phoenix on Wednesday. The Celtics were outscored 30-8 in transition despite not playing in seven days, while the Suns were coming off an overtime victory in Denver a night earlier.
Rondo had 18 points and 10 assists while Brandon Bass also scored 18.
Coach Brad Stevens' squad found itself down 10 points early in the fourth quarter following a 17-0 run by the Suns.
"The bottom line is that period of time, late-third, early-fourth, changed the complexion of the entire game," Stevens told the team's website.
Jared Sullinger, who leads the club with 8.2 rebounds per game, limped off the floor after twisting his ankle with 10 seconds left, but it's not known if the injury will sideline him Friday.