The Los Angeles Lakers are currently playing their best basketball of the young season, winning two straight games and three of their last four to move their record to 5-5 on the season.
They face a tough test Wednesday night though as they begin a four-game road trip against the rival Boston Celtics, who have won nine straight after beginning the season 0-2.
Luckily for Los Angeles, the Celtics will be without a key contributor in big man Al Horford, who is going to miss the game as he enters the concussion protocol.
The Lakers will be without their starting power forward as well though, as Larry Nance Jr. continues to heal his broken hand that is going to keep him out 4-6 weeks.
The Celtics backcourt features four-time All-Star Kyrie Irving, who the Celtics of course acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers this past offseason.
Irving is the Celtics leader and has been producing on the court at his normal rate, averaging 22.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 45.8 percent from the field, which are all right around his career averages.
Alongside Irving in the backcourt is second-year man Jaylen Brown, who has made big strides in his sophomore season. Brown is averaging 15.4 points and 6.4 rebounds which are significant upgrades over his 6.6 and 2.8 averages in those categories a season ago.
It will be interesting to see if Lakers head coach Luke Walton puts Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on Irving or Brown, with rookie Lonzo Ball matching up with the other. Either way, the Lakers will have a guard with length on Irving, which could cause issues for the perennial All-Star.
The Celtics backcourt off the bench rivals the Lakers, with Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier getting a bulk of the minutes that Jordan Clarkson and Josh Hart get for the Lakers.
Losing Horford for Wednesday’s contest is a big loss for Boston as their frontcourt is nowhere near as deep as their backcourt. Marcus Morris replaced Aron Baynes in the starting lineup in the Celtics last game against the Orlando Magic, although Baynes will now likely return with Horford out.
The Celtics best frontcourt player is rookie Jayson Tatum though. The No. 3 overall pick is averaging 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds, showing that the scouting report was correct in saying he was one of the most NBA-ready players in this past draft.
Tatum’s stats are very similar to Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma’s, as Kuzma is averaging 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. Kuzma, of course, was drafted significantly lower than Tatum though at No. 27.
Kuzma will be making his third straight start in the absence of Nance, and he has produced at an even higher level since entering the starting lineup. He has two double-doubles in his first two starts, averaging 17 points and 12.5 rebounds.
Lakers center Brook Lopez’s play has also been better since Kuzma joined him in the starting lineup. His stellar play even extends a game before that as in his last three games he’s averaging 27.3 points while shooting 57.9 percent from three-point range.
Three Keys To Victory:
Contain Irving: With Horford out, a lot of the load offensively will fall on Kyrie Irving for the Celtics. He has proven in his career that he can carry a team offensively so it will be important for the Lakers to make someone else other than Irving beat them.
Control the Pace: According to ESPN’s Pace Factor, the Lakers are the third fastest team in the league and the Celtics are the fourth slowest. It’s pretty clear that the Lakers want to get out and run while the Celtics want to do the opposite so whoever is able to control the pace of the game will have a good chance at winning.
Get Off to a Good Start: Playing a team as hot as Boston is on the road is a tall task for the young Laker team. The task gets even taller if the Celtics get out to an early lead, so it is imperative that L.A. gets off to a good start if they want to have a chance.
Los Angeles Lakers (5-5) Vs. Boston Celtics (9-2)
5:00 P.M. PST, November 8, 2017
TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Corey Brewer, Josh Hart
Projected Celtics Starting Lineup:
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Marcus Morris
C: Aron Baynes
Key Reserves: Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Daniel Theis, Semi Ojeleye.
WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE DISCUSSION? CHECK OUT THE NEW LAKERSNATION FORUM CLUB