Let’s be honest. The NBA is a whole lot better when the Lakers and Celtics are formidable teams.
The rivalry has one characteristic that no other rivalry in sports has. Almost every major rivalry in sports started because of geography or the two teams being in the same division or conference.
USC-UCLA? Same city.
Bears-Packers? Four hour drive.
Redskins-Cowboys? Same division.
Red Sox-Yankees? Only a four hour drive, once again. (Though, the whole Babe Ruth sale and Curse of the Bambino was a unique twist. But the Curse is over and the rivalry has lost a bit of its luster.)
What about the Dodgers and Yankees? It’s nice that they’ve maintained their rivalry to some extent, but they used to be crosstown rivals. Doesn’t count.
Boston and Los Angeles are over 2,500 miles apart. They’ve never played in the same division and never will – let alone the same conference. These two teams are rivals based on one sole reason – they’ve met in the NBA Finals 11 times and have combined for 33 NBA titles and that’s what makes it the greatest rivalry in sports. The rivalry is based on the battle for league dominance, not geographical supremacy.
Unfortunately for all NBA fans, though, these two storied franchises aren’t exactly experiencing halcyon days in 2014. Combined, they’ve lost 24 of their last 27 games and have a greater interest in ping pong balls over the Larry O’Brien trophy this year.
They’ll meet tonight in the first of two games this regular season at the TD Garden in Boston. It’ll be the first time the two teams play each other since the post-KG era in Boston. The Lakers played 25 games (including playoffs) against the Celtics during the Garnett-Pierce-Allen era and won 13 games. They’ve won seven of their last 10 regular season games against the Green.
The Celtics received some good news when they learned that star point guard Rajon Rondo will make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers “barring any setbacks”. Having one of the best distributors in the game (averaged 11.3 assists per game over the last three seasons) will bring flow to the Celtics’ offense, which ranks 28th in assists this season. And although Rondo has been criticized for his shooting throughout his career (24.1 percent career three point shooter), he has a career two-point shooting percentage of 49.9 percent.
The Celtics made a three-way trade this week with Miami and Golden State, shipping their third-leading scorer, Jordan Crawford to Golden State for Joel Anthony and a pair of draft picks. They could potentially have three first round draft picks this summer and that could go up assuming they decide to trade Rondo, too.
On the court, the Celtics have been a solid mid-range shooting team this year. They’re 4th in shot attempts from 16-24 feet and have made 41.3 percent of those shots (8th best). However, their three-point shooting has been abysmal and Rondo isn’t going to change that. In their last 13 games, the Celtics have shot below 30 percent from beyond the arc. The team doesn’t really have size – their two tallest players, Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani are both inexperienced rookies. In fact, Celtics centers have allowed a PER of 19.7 against opposing centers this year.
Aside from Rondo, the Celtics will look to Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, and Jared Sullinger for production. Green leads the team in scoring with 15.7 points per game. Bradley is a sharp shooter who has made 38.3 percent of his triples this season. Meanwhile, Sullinger leads the team in rebounding with 7.8 boards per game.
The Lakers march into Boston not having won since January 3 at home against the Jazz. They’ve lost 12 of their last 13 and have made just 31.7 percent of their threes during that span. The Lakers have been reliant on three point shooting all year long. In wins, the Lakers have made 41 percent of their threes compared to just 33 percent in losses.
They’ll be without Nick Young tonight, who was suspended for throwing a punch at Phoenix’s Alex Len in Wednesday’s loss at the desert. That’s the last news the Lakers needed to hear as they’re already missing Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Xavier Henry, and Jordan Farmar. The Lakers rank fourth in terms of points per play on the Isolation. It’s going to be difficult for the Lakers to succeed in that department with Young out of the lineup since 23 percent of plays he runs are out of the ISO and the Lakers average 0.9 PPP when he runs it.
To replace Young, the Lakers signed Manny Harris to a ten-day contract yesterday. Harris leads the D-League in scoring with 30.6 points and had a 49 point performance earlier this month. With the roster depleted, don’t be surprised if Harris plays double-digit minutes in his Laker debut.
The Lakers are in for a tough one tonight especially with Rondo coming back for the C’s. If they’re going to win this game, they need to improve their three-point shooting. The team lives and dies by the three and they must take quality threes if they’re going to stay competitive in this game. When they’re not shooting threes, they need to use their two hottest players – Pau Gasol (19.7 points, 11.6 rebounds in January) and Kendall Marshall (three straight double doubles) – efficiently in the pick and roll.
Finally, the Lakers need to wake up after halftime. The Lakers have shot just 38 percent in 3rd quarters over the last 13 games and have been outscored by an average of 7.5 points in that span. Whether it’s lack of making adjustments or tiring out, the Lakers have to play a strong 48 minutes. If they do that, they can possibly squeak out a win on the road.