Lakers. Celtics. Despite just five wins apiece, there is certainly no love lost in the NBA’s greatest rivalry. Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo may be friends off the court, as witnessed by their breakfast rendezvous, but you can bet it’ll be tossed aside and replaced with competitive fire when they take the floor. The Lakers will look to bounce back from a loss to the Wizards, while the Celtics are coming off an overtime victory against the Detroit Pistons.
Frontcourt: Out on the wing, Jeff Green is having the best scoring season of his career during his seventh campaign, averaging 19 points per game. Ever since his return from heart surgery back in 2012, Green’s production has increased each year. He possesses great size at the small forward position, matched with great athleticism, which allows him to finish strong at the rim. He also has the capability to knock down perimeter shots. Green will be a difficult cover for the Lakers, just as he is for other defenses.
Another player having his best scoring season thus far is third-year man Jared Sullinger. The 22-year-old has put forth a scoring output of 16.3 points to go along with his 8.4 rebounds a night. Sullinger’s three point field goal percentage has also ballooned, going from a meager 26.9 percent a year ago to 34.9 percent through Boston’s first 16 games this season.
Entering the starting lineup recently for the Celtics is newcomer Tyler Zeller, who took Kelly Olynyk’s spot. Coach Brad Stevens labeled the switch as “temporary”, but it’s still likely a sign that he will receive more minutes going forward regardless of whether it is as a starter or reserve. In his three starts, Zeller has averaged 7.6 points and rebounds in 24.6 minutes per contest. The former North Carolina Tar Heel hasn’t taken many attempts this year (3.8 per game), but he’s capitalized on the shots he has put up, hitting 65 percent of them.
Backcourt: Headlining this Boston team is none other than Rondo, who is a threat to capture a triple-double on a nightly basis. He has only tallied one so far this season, but has flirted with the accomplishment on several occasions. Rondo won’t typically beat you with his scoring, seeing as he has always been a poor jump shooter. However, he manages to make significant contributions in virtually every other aspect of the game, recording 8.3 points, 10.9 assists and 7.4 rebounds per game thus far.
The other guard alongside Rondo is Avery Bradley. In his fifth season, Bradley’s numbers are marginally worse, although it’s presumably because of acclimating to Rondo being fully healthy and in the lineup consistently again. Bradley is a nightmare for opponent’s on the defensive end, wreaking havoc with his on-ball pressure. His overall offensive ability is still a work in progress, but he is more than capable of knocking down shots from inside and out. Together, Rondo and Bradley form one of the more formidable defensive backcourts in the league.
Keys to Victory:
Force Perimeter Shots: Although the Celtics have some decent three-point shooters, as a team they have the fourth-lowest percentage from deep in the entire league. Saying the Lakers have struggled defensively this year is quite the understatement, but if they are able to pack the paint and force the Celtics to launch shots from the outside, it could lead to one of their better defensive performances of the season.
Facilitator Kobe: The Lakers have won two of their last three games, and in those wins, Bryant made a particular effort to get his teammates involved first and foremost, dishing out 12 and 13 assists in those victories. Most of his 24 shot attempts came later in the win against Toronto, as he was passing the ball at will in the first half. Everyone knows Kobe can score at an astonishing rate, but the Lakers are better served when he takes advantage of so much defensive attention to set up his guys for open looks. It could also preserve some energy used by the 36-year-old, which would obviously benefit him as the season progresses.
Attack the Basket: Boston gives up the highest amount of points in the paint in the NBA, so the Lakers need to be in attack mode. In doing so, the Lakers will be put severe pressure on the Celtics to step up and perform well in an area that they have disappointed. Whether it’s by dribble penetration, cuts to the basket, or any other method, if Los Angeles is aggressive and attacks the rim, they could rack up points in a hurry.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are 3.5-point underdogs against the Celtics according to Sportsbook.ag.
Los Angeles Lakers (5-14) at Boston Celtics (5-11)
4:30 PM PST, December 5, 2014
TD Garden, Boston, MA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Celtics Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Avery Bradley
SF: Jeff Green
PF: Jared Sullinger
C: Tyler Zeller
Key Reserves: SG: Evan Turner, PF: Brandon Bass, C: Kelly Olynyk
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill
VIDEO: Kobe Bryant Reflects On His Favorite Moment In The Boston Garden