C’s Look to End Three-Game Skid vs. New-Look Lakers

BOSTON – It took no time at all for the Boston Celtics to move past Saturday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns and shift their focus to their next task at hand. It’s what had to be done, as the team began preparing for one of their biggest challenges of the season in hosting the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers Monday night.

“I think we all know the kind of challenge that they are going to pose,” Marcus Smart, fresh off of a career-high 37-point performance, said Saturday night. “If we don't come ready, it's going to be another long night for us. I expect everyone in this locker room to be ready and locked in.”

The Lakers will bring with them to Boston their most talented roster since their 2010 NBA Championship team. The pairing of superstars LeBron James and newcomer Anthony Davis has commenced a purple and gold resurgence, as they have propelled the Lakers to a 34-8 record through the midway point of the season.

Though, as Brad Stevens pointed out Monday morning, the supporting cast around James and Davis deserves just as much credit. That crew includes a few NBA champions in Quinn Cook, Danny Green, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo, a couple of former All-Defensive stars in Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard, and a pair of talented wings in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma, among others.

“They’re elite,” Stevens said following his team’s shootaround. “Obviously everybody, rightly so, talks about LeBron and Davis and they’re two of the best players in the NBA, but then I think they’ve got great guys around them that really know what they’re supposed to do. And they do it really hard.

“They’ve got a couple of guys that have won big here that we’re very familiar with,” the coach added in reference to Bradley and Rondo. “The bigs are great for them. Their size and length are a problem. It’s been a problem for everybody in the league, and one of the things when you see it up close, it’s striking how big they are.”

One newcomer who made a big impact of late is Bradley. The former Celtic has slid seamlessly into the starting shooting guard spot and will certainly have the Celtics’ attention tonight.

“I think Avery’s been a great player everywhere he’s been his whole career,” Stevens said of his former player. “He flies off screens, he can make shots, he’s competitive, he’s tough, he’s a great defender and all the good things you saw here he’s been doing since he left. He’s had some bouts with bad health, unfortunately, but now he looks healthy. He looks really good, and I think he gives them a lot."

Stevens elaborated on Bradley's impact, adding, “He allows LeBron to play the point on offense and Avery to guard the point, and so that’s a great mix for them. I think they’ve done a great job of playing to his strengths and he’s done a great job of accentuating others’ strengths. As we’ve seen here, he’s a good player for winning teams.”

Bradley is one of the players who has helped L.A. to jump from 13th in defensive rating last season to third this season. The Lakers have also made immense improvements on the other end of the floor, as they’ve leapt from 24th in offensive rating all the way up to fourth.

The Celtics, meanwhile, are right on L.A.’s tail in both categories, as they boast the sixth-best offensive rating and fifth-best defensive rating in the league. They should also be boosted tonight by the returns of both Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker, who were sidelined during Saturday night’s loss due to minor injuries.

Walker, who is stepping into the storied Celtics-Lakers rivalry for the first time, isn’t overthinking the marquee matchup, as he is simply looking to take an even-keeled approach.

“It’s the same as any other game,” he claimed. “We’re just trying to get a win. That’s always the main goal. We want to come out early and be aggressive and try to have a great start. Just play well for 48 minutes and try to win this game.”

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