Yesterday, the Lakers learned that they will be without Pau Gasol for at least six weeks, a devastating blow to a Lakers team that has come to life lately, winning six of its past seven games, including a 92-83 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.
It remains to be seen whether Dwight Howard will be back in the lineup tonight. With Gasol out, Earl Clark becomes an even more instrumental part of the Lakers’ attack, and he must continue to play at the level he has been playing at since Mike D’Antoni inserted him into the starting lineup.
Metta World Peace will return to the starting lineup tonight after serving a one game suspension.
The Boston Celtics are dealing with their own injury woes, as they lost All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. However, the team has amazingly gone 5-0 in his absence, as they continue to be a team that finds a way each season under Doc Rivers.
It seems as if the critics have called for general manager Danny Ainge to start over in Boston each of the last three seasons, but the Celtics resilience has been incredible. It is hard to see them replicating their success of last season, when they were one win away from reaching the NBA Finals, but they are surely a team no one wants to face in the playoffs.
Of course, the Lakers and Celtics met in the Finals in 2008 as well as 2010, with the Celtics winning in ’08 and Lakers in ’10. No matter the record, this historic rivalry game always has a high level of intensity about it.
Frontcourt: Kevin Garnett, at the age of 36, continues to play at a high level. He will serve as the starting center for the East in the All-Star game, and is averaging 14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds a night. Garnett, one of the best power forwards of all time, is the heart and soul of the Boston team. Since his arrival in 2008, the Celtics have played the most consistent hard-nosed defense of any team in the league.
Earl Clark and the other Lakers bigs must not be intimidated by Garnett’s presence on the defensive end and attack the rim to try and get him into foul trouble. Boston’s defense is not nearly as effective when Garnett is off the floor.
Paul Pierce, the 2008 NBA Finals MVP, starts at the small forward position. Pierce is currently in his 15th season, all with the Celtics, and is the second all time leading scorer in franchise history. Offensively, he can post you up, shoot the three, or take you off the dribble in isolation. Though he has lost a step or two, Pierce is still one of the most effective crunch time scorers in the league. World Peace has historically had success on Pierce, and it will be interesting to see whether D’Antoni sticks him or Clark on Boston’s best scorer.
Backcourt: In Rondo’s absence, Avery Bradley has been serving as the starting point guard for Boston. Bradley is a solid athlete who is more of a distributor on offense. Defensively, he is an outstanding on-ball defender and is capable of wreaking havoc on opposing point guards. Since his return from injury earlier this season, Boston’s defense has improved considerably.
Courtney Lee is currently serving as the starting two guard, and he is strong defensively as well. Though he has struggled with his three point shot this season, Lee is historically a good shooter from distance (38% career) and he cannot be left for open looks.
Though Rondo was the league’s leader in assists before he went down, two players on the Celtics bench have actually benefited from his absence: Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa. Terry was one of the best clutch players in the league while playing for the Mavericks, and was the second leading scorer on the Mavs’ championship team in 2010-2011. He is able to have the ball in hands more with Rondo not on the floor, and he is most effective when he looks for his own shot off the dribble.
Barbosa is a former Sixth Man of the Year under D’Antoni while he was in Phoenix. The “Brazilian Blur,” as he is called, is one of the fastest players in the league with the ball and also possesses an unorthodox, yet effective three-point shot.
Keys to Victory:
Contain the Celtics Bench: Though the numbers on the season don’t necessarily reflect it, the Celtics have a dangerous bench. Terry and Barbosa, as mentioned above, now have more freedom within the offense in Rondo’s absence. If either one gets hot from the field, it could be a long night for the Lakers.
Jeff Green is another solid player Boston has off the bench and he can change the game with his athleticism and versatility. All three of these players are new to the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, and they are sure to fuel the excitement surrounding the game. It is the job of the Lakers to match this energy.
Selfless Kobe: The last two games, Kobe has reverted back to his usual role of trying to score the ball rather than pass first. Against the Celtics, Kobe must let the game come to him as he has a tendency to get caught up in personal challenges in games such as these. The Celtics have a history of guarding Kobe well, forcing him to take difficult shots from the field. Kobe must not fall into this trap and look to get his teammates involved early, especially if they are without Howard.
Boston Perspective: Gary Dzen over at Boston.com put together his pre-game report from the Celtics’ perspective, saying that even though this isn’t the Lakers vs. Celtics matchup we’ve come to expect over the last five years, this heated rivalry should still provide some sparks tonight in Beantown. Check out his full report, here.
Boston Celtics (25-23) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (23-26)
5:00 PM PST, February 7, 2013, TD Bank Garden
CA TV: TWCSN
Celtics Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Avery Bradley
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Brandon Bass
C: Kevin Garnett
Key Reserves: G Jason Terry, G Leandro Barbosa, F Jeff Green