Records: Lakers 42-13 (1st in the West), Celtics 33-18 (4th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.2 (9th in the NBA), Celtics 107.0 (13th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.0 (2nd in the NBA), Celtics 101.6 (1st in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins
The Lakers Coming in: Another night without Kobe tonight, and against our heated rivals no less. But the Lakers keep churning out the wins, so Kobe can heal up knowing that the team is still racking up the victories and keeping pace in an ever improving league and conference. There have been a lot of trades happening all over the NBA and every team has been jamming up opposing GM’s phone lines in an effort to improve their respective team, but as the trade deadline has passed it looks like the Lakers have stood pat. That is no surprise when you consider all the factors – our league high payroll, the reality that any trade would mean jettisoning Sasha (and his bad contract), the complexity of our sets and what that means to intergrating new players, and the likelihood that teams may not want to help out the defending champs by contributing good players to our roster. So, we go to battle with the same team that we started the season with and I’m fine with that. If there is any team that is constructed to win the title this year, it’s the Lakers as they have only made one change to a roster that actually did win the Championship last season. The Lakers, until dethroned, are the kings of the hill and other teams must improve to try and catch them. Come June, we’ll see if all the effort and extra millions spent at the trade deadline will add up for one of the other contenders and lead to a championship. Sure, I (as with I would assume most other fans) would have liked to see a trade that improved us in some way (PG, backup SF). But that didn’t happen. I’m not dissappointed by this and now that the trade deadline is over and passed, we can all get back to the games at hand.
The Celtics Coming in: One team that did make a deal was the Celtics. Reportedly, the C’s have acquired Nate Robinson (and an additional player to be named) in an effort to get a more explosive back court player that can play some defense and boost the scoring of their 2nd unit. My take is that Nate is a true wild card that can end up truly helping the Celtics with his offense and ball pressure D, but he’s also a guy that can get moody and has found himself in the doghouse plenty of times for his lack of team play with more than one coach. How will he play for the Celtics? As with any of the trades that have gone down, that remains to be seen. But this seems like a bit of a desperate move and a minor shake up of a roster that needed some life after sputtering with an up and down season (for their recent standards) so far. What I do know is that this is the type of deal that will put chemistry at the forefront as I wonder if Nate is an Unbutu kind of player that is willing to make the necessary sacrifices to his game to really blend in with a contender.
Outside of the trade, when evaluating Boston you see the team that many experts thought would come along sooner or later when Danny Ainge decided to go for broke by adding great, but aging players to a roster desperate to compete again. The Celtics did get their ring, but now they find themselves with veteran players on the wrong side of their peak that are suffering from ineffective play and linger injuries. This decline is highlighted by the droppoff in shooting by Ray Allen, the balkiness of KG’s knee, and Rasheed Wallace’s body looking like he’s had one too many trips back to the mash potatotes and gravy at Home Town Buffet. And while Pierce has stayed effective through injuries, this Celtics team is becoming more and more dependent on the effectiveness of its young players. Luckily for them, those players have been playing well. Perkins has turned into a solid offensive player and a real beast on defense. He plays the position game with his post defense better than anyone (save maybe Chuck Hayes) and with above average rebounding and hustle. Then there is Rondo. Rajon has really turned into one of the elite young PG’s and plays a style that is seemingly a mix between a young Jason Kidd and the current version of Tony Parker. Rondo is a menace on defense, has a great feel for running an offense, can finish in the paint with the best of them, but lacks a jumper that makes you respect him completely on offense. There’s a reason that Rondo was getting crunch time minutes in the ASG last weekend. He is for real.
Celtics Blogs: There are plethora of Celtics blogs that are worth reading (if you like being behind enemy lines). There’s the OG blog of covering the C’s – Celtic’s Blog. Celtic’s Hub always has good insight on the greenies. Red’s Army…I could go on and on. Check them out, they’re all good spots to get the skinny on what smart C’s fans are thinking (yes, there are smart C’s fans).
Keys to game: This a game where the Lakers advantage inside is not as pronounced as it is against most teams. I would still take our front line over theirs, but they have a good, veteran group that knows how to play the game. That said, this should not stop the Lakers from going inside and running our sets through our bigs. In the last meeting between these two teams, Bynum had one of his best all around games of the season as he brought effort and intensity on defense and took it to Perkins on offense. Perk is a beast, but Bynum has the ability to be a monster as well and with a height and length advantage, I’d like to see ‘Drew go to work on the block and get some buckets and (maybe even more important) get Perkins in foul trouble. Gasol should also be able to attack KG on the inside. As mentioned earlier (and as we all saw in the ASG), KG is not anywhere near to 100% healthy and he has lost a half step in his lateral quickness. I’d love to see Pau in post iso’s on the weakside, look for cutters in his typical way, and then drive hard at KG and make him move his feet. I’d also love to see more of those quick spin moves from Pau after feeling for the angle of the defender on his back.
On the perimeter, ball movement will be key, but the ball must move decisively and with crispness. The C’s employ one of the best defensive minds in the entire league in Tom Thibodeau and his schemes are very well designed with an emphasis put on denying ball reversals and also showing and recovering with help on the wings. This will mean that the Lakers wings must play disciplined and not fall into the trap of taking the long jumpers that the C’s want to make them take. The guards (that means you Farmar and WOW) need to continuously feed the post and cut hard and then screen hard. The ball will come back to you and the defense will loosen up. They just have to trust in that and execute accordingly.
On defense, the most interesting decision will be how to play Rondo. Ever since the ’08 Finals, Phil has played Rondo almost exclusively with Kobe and allowed him to play off Rondo to disrupt passing lanes and roam as a helper. This has forced Rondo to play outside of the paint more than he’d like and turned him more into the reluctant jumpshooter that is much easier to handle. But with Kobe out tonight, Phil will have an interesting decision to make. Does he put WOW on Rondo? When that match up occured in the 2nd quarter of our last meeting with the C’s, Rondo abused WOW and got anywhere he wanted on the court, sparking a run fueld by back cuts by Tony Allen and ‘and one’ finishes by Rondo himself. Does he put Fisher on him? I think we all know that Fish can not stay with Rondo in the open court and that Rondo’s quickness and ability to feint and change direction with hesitation dribbles is too much for our veteran PG. In the end, I think we see WOW on him with the strict instructions to play way off and invite him to shoot the jumper on every play. However this turns out will be one of the major keys to this game.
Besides containing Rondo, the Lakers must also be aware of the delayed/secondary fast break and find shooters. Ray Allen, Pierce, and ‘Sheed all love to run to the three point line on the delayed break and Rondo is excellent at penetrating, getting the D on its heels, and then passing out for a wide open jumper. Being aware of this should be fresh in the the Lakers minds as they just got a healthy dose of this against the Warriors with Morrow, Curry, and Watson providing the shooting. Also, be aware of the screens that the C’s set. Boston is one of the teams that sets the most (some would say illegal) screens in the league. Knowing where the screen is coming from both on and off the ball is a key and the Lakers must be vocal on defense to sniff out these picks (and if the Lakers feel like they’re being screened illegally, take a hard foul or ‘sell’ the contact to the refs – the only way to stop it is to make the refs notice). Lastly, the Lakers must be aggressive in going after the ball in both man to man sets and in the passing lanes. The Celtics are one of the most turnover prone teams in the league and can shoot themselves in the foot with sloppy play. Be aware of this carelessness and the Lakers are likely to get lots of points off turnovers and that can be the difference in the game.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start here on the West on TNT. You know what that means – more like 7:45. Also on ESPN Radio 710am.