Preview & Chat: The Evil Empire

Kurt —  February 5, 2009

Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers

Records: Lakers 39-9 (1st in the West) Celtics 41-9 (1st in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.6 (1st in league) Celtics 110.9 (5th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (7th in league) Celtics 100.2 (1st in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Celtics Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

What does it really mean: I think a lot of debate on this site and others about this (and the Christmas) Lakers v. Celtics game comes down to this:

How much does it matter come June?

Certainly the win has importance in the tight home-court race (more on that in a minute). But what about psychologically? There are some Lakers fans who think the team needs these wins to gain confidence they can do it when it matters. Myself and others think that this game has virtually no impact on the Lakers (or anyone elses) psyche come the Finals.

I just don’t think the Lakers will put that much into a loss. They are playing their fifth game in seven days, second night of a back-to-back, without their star center. Win or lose, if these two teams meet in the Finals things will look different. (Maybe the Celts will have a player with a star tattooed on his head.) I think for professionals, this game may mean more than last night, but it does not mean as much as the first round of the playoffs.

We fans don’t like to see it that way, by the way, we tend to take the wins and losses harder. But we don’t have to wake up in the morning and start preparing for Cleveland.

Still, far smarter people than myself (say Roland Lazenby) seem to fall on the other side of the fence:

Yes, they beat the Celtics in Los Angeles on Christmas day. That has helped Jackson’s young players in dealing with their profound embarrassments of the 2008 championship series against Boston.
But those bad memories linger and will continue to do so.

Here’s the hard part: The Lakers will never put that series behind them unless they win the championship series this year. It would help if they claimed that title with a win over the Celtics. That’s all getting way ahead of the task at hand, of course.

Before they win another title, the Lakers have to emerge from a challenging field in the Western Conference.

Still, that doesn’t set aside the psychology of all this.

Home court will matter, and a new Celtics blog called Celtics Hub takes a detailed look at the remaining schedules of the Lakers, Celtics and Cavaliers. They see a tight race between the Celtics and Cavs, which is interesting only because the Lakers play fewer good teams. Check out the data and reach your own conclusions.

Keys To The Game: The Kobe & Pau show the last couple of nights has been impressive — the Lakers two biggest players steppeed up when the team needed tnem most. But it will take more than that tonight.

Remember back to the Lakers being up 24 points in a Finals game last year? Remember Christmas? The Lakers did that by ball and player movement. The Celtics try to keep the triangle on one side of the floor, not allow the ball reversals and quick cuts that make the offense hum. When the Lakers have fought through that they have exposed KG for his wanderlust on defense. Last June they just didn’t do it consistently, but tonight they get another chance.

On defense, the Lakers did a great job on Christmas with Kobe on Rondo, sagging off and helping while turning the PG into a jumpshooter. That is key — when he gets in the lane he is a threat to pass and score, but from 18 feet out you let him shoot all he wants. The Lakers need to play the screen and roll well with Pierce (they like to run a double-screen, one on each side of him from each big, so he can choose how to attack, that could be a problem).

The guys on the Lakers bench are really going to have to bring it.

Where you can watch: 5 p.m. on TNT. The good news about that is for a change the Lakers are part of the first game of the double header, so we’ll get to see the entire first quarter.


Kurt

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