I think it’s safe to say that the excitement and anticipation for the Los Angeles Lakers new season has only increased during the past couple of days. We have finally seen the complete new-look Lakers together and in uniform at Monday’s Media Day (to see Lakers Nation’s video highlights from Media Day, click here). Additionally, after reports came out recently that Dwight Howard will most likely be ready to go for Opening Night (October 30th), new reports have Howard being possibly ready to play during the pre-season.
I began a series of articles regarding the Lakers’ top competition in the East on Monday with the Miami Heat. It is a general consensus that the defending champs are the team to beat (at least in the East, depending on who you ask), and are favorites to return to the NBA Finals in June for the third straight year. The Boston Celtics believe they can prevent that from happening, and plan on upsetting the Lakers in the regular season and in the Finals if they in fact meet. This just goes to prove that the best rivalry in basketball is not going anywhere.
This could have just as easily been the first year in a long, frustrating rebuilding process for the Boston Celtics, but GM Danny Ainge managed to keep together the majority of the old core (Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett), while also bringing in enough youth (Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger) to still keep this one of the most interesting teams in the Eastern Conference. The Jason Terry signing should help offset the loss of Ray Allen to Miami, and the rest of the roster looks pretty deep, particularly when Avery Bradley comes back healthy. The Celtics were better than they were supposed to be last season, but there are actually some big expectations for this team in 2012-13.
The Celtics did add youth and depth to their roster that were needs from last season. While Garnett and Pierce are secondary offensive contributors, their leadership and experience will be highly valued on the court and in the locker room. Boston certainly has their own historical brand of narrative that they live and die by. Therefore, keeping the core of Rondo, Pierce and Garnett was essential since the Celtics have two rookies (Sullinger and Melo) and newcomers (Lee, Green and Terry) that will all play important roles during the season.
However, I think it’s no secret that the Celtics win or lose by Rajon Rondo. Last season, Rondo finished first in the league for assists and had six triple-doubles last season, which also led the league. Rondo’s ability to create plays and easy opportunities for his teammates is quite remarkable. Steve Nash is definitely a better shooter than Rondo, while being an equal if not better playmaker. However, while Nash has had struggles on defense throughout his career, Rondo excels. Let’s take a quick look at what Nash and Rondo are expected to bring to these L.A. vs. Boston matches based on their averages from last season.
- PPG: 12.5
- Assits: 10.7
- Assits Ratio: 44.0
- Turnover Ratio: 15.2
- Usage Rate: 21.5
- Player Efficiency Rating: 20.29
- FT %: 89.4
- FG %: 53.2
- PPG: 11.9
- Assists: 11.7
- Assists Ratio: 42.3
- Turnover Ratio: 13.2
- Usage Rate: 21.7
- Player Efficiency Rating: 17.55
- FT %: 59.7
- FG %: 44.8
The other highlighted match that is a new feature to the Lakers/Celtics rivalry in the past several seasons will be the Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett matchup. Garnett will be playing center full-time this year and hasn’t been assigned to guard Howard in purple and gold. While Garnett will most likely try to force Howard out of the paint to guard him, I believe based on what I’ve seen from Howard in the past and in training camp so far, Howard should dominate this matchup. Here’s Garnett’s and Howard’s numbers from last season.
- PPG: 20.6
- RPG: 14.5
- BPG: 2.1
- FG %: 57.3
- Player Efficiency Rating: 24.29
- PPG: 15.8
- RPG: 8.2
- BPG: 1.0
- FG %: 50.3
- Player Efficiency Rating: 20.47
Everyone can agree that the Celtics got deeper this off-season, which was a focus by Danny Ainge since they were ranked 29th in bench scoring last season. It is no secret that the Lakers’ bench was horrible last season as well. Both corrected that issue this summer, but there is a major difference. The Celtics will rely on a balanced offense from their entire roster to contribute equally every game. This is very different from the Lakers, as their starters are very dangerous on the offensive end.
Of course, the Lakers bench is much improved and will be essential. However, with the Lakers, Kobe can have a bad night and Howard, Nash, Gasol, etc. can have a big night. Essentially, a couple of Lakers (their starters) can win games for them if needed, while the Celtics may have a problem with depending on their bench to win games, especially during the playoffs when rotations are shortened.
The rivalry that never seems to disappoint will continue to draw attention to their battles that bring out both teams’ strengths and weaknesses. The Celtics and Lakers games are always full of passion, intensity, physicality, aggressiveness and entertainment regardless of each of the team’s record. However, both teams are expected to be strong this year and with new Celtics guard Jason Terry’s recent comments of wanting to “kill” the Lakers, the rivalry continues to be hyped and surely won’t disappoint. I previously wrote about a Lakers/Heat Finals, but as a lifelong Laker fan, another Celtics/Lakers Finals would be great too.