3/9 Game Preview: Celtics at Lakers
A pair of old rivals not only will have a hard time conjuring up their rich history on Saturday night, but they also will find it difficult to repeat the recent past.
The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers do have a way of moving the storyline forward, but their Saturday matchup in Los Angeles will have a hard time topping even the most recent meeting between the teams in Boston.
Point guard Rajon Rondo pulled out a 129-128 victory for the Lakers on Feb. 7 with a buzzer-beating shot on the floor where he led the Celtics to the 2008 title over the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Even when the Celtics and Lakers aren't knocking heads for a championship, they still know good theater.
The Saturday version of the cross-country rivalry will pit a Celtics team finally gaining traction after a rough post-All-Star break run against a Lakers team that is slipping further out of playoff contention with each game. Los Angeles has lost six of its past seven games, including four in a row.
Now come reports that the Lakers will start reducing LeBron James' minutes over the final month of the season. He might even sit in back-to-back scenarios, but he figures to be well-rested for the Celtics since the Lakers last played Wednesday in a 115-99 defeat against the Denver Nuggets.
James might not have any choice but to play. Brandon Ingram (sore right shoulder), Kyle Kuzma (sprained right ankle) and Lance Stephenson (sprained left toe) are listed as questionable. Tyson Chandler has missed the past two games due to a stiff neck, and Lonzo Ball hasn't played since January when he sprained his left ankle, tore a ligament and came away with a bone bruise.
Los Angeles coach Luke Walton said Friday that Ball might miss the rest of the season.
Despite the team's health woes, Walton continues to preach a positive attitude.
"Guys are upset about losing and where we're at," Walton said. "As we try to continue to build things, you have to build ... you have to be resilient with who you are and who we are as a group. And it's tough times right now.
"We can't let that get us down. We got to continue to develop our habits and continue to work as a group and define how we handle ourselves."
The Celtics know the feeling ... at least a little bit. They lost their first four games after the All-Star break, but have since rebounded to win three of four, including a dominating 128-95 victory at Golden State on Tuesday.
The latest victory came Wednesday at Sacramento when Gordon Hayward hit a shot in the final seconds for a 111-109 decision.
"More than anything, I'm happy for our team, happy that we found a way to win these last two games, especially with what we were going through," Hayward said, according to the Boston Globe. "It's been like this this year. We've had ups and downs. It's been like a roller coaster."
Boston guard Kyrie Irving, who missed the Wednesday game with a thigh contusion, said Friday he will be back in action Saturday. Irving has missed a dozen games for various ailments this season, with the Celtics going 10-2 in those contests.
He said of opposing his former Cleveland teammate, James, "It's just another game, but going against a great competitor, a teammate like 'Bron is always fun. You just understand that these head-to-head matchups probably will happen for a few more years, and you just want to take advantage of them. Just the great players you get a chance to play against in our league, you always want to play well."