With the trading deadline behind us, everyone on the Los Angeles Lakers from Jordan Hill to Pau Gasol can now take a deep breath and focus on basketball. The team looks to snap its eight-game home losing streak, which is the longest in franchise history, against the Boston Celtics.
After trading Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers will welcome newly acquired players, Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. Brooks and Bazemore have been rarely used this season. Brooks is only averaging 2.6 points per game in 17 games this season, while Bazemore is only averaging 2.3 points per game in 44 games.
The purpose of the trade was financial. Although the Lakers did not get under the luxury tax with the trade, they will save $3 million in taxes because of the move. It also helps that the Lakers can lock up Bazemore for a cheap price next year if he accepts the team’s qualifying offer.
While the Lakers are just now seeing that they need to rebuild (shelling out near $50 million to an aging veteran is not a sign of rebuilding), the Celtics have been on that road for awhile now. After parting ways with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the offseason, the team also made two trades in January and stocked up on more draft picks. In those trades, the C’s acquired Joel Anthony and Jeryd Bayless, who can both potentially come off the books after this season, thus freeing up more cap room.
These two teams are headed in the same direction this year, but the Celtics have done a better job building for the future as they potentially could have five draft picks over the next two years. They also will have plenty of more cap space and play in a weaker conference and have established a coach for the future in Brad Stevens. Keeping star point guard Rajon Rondo during the trade deadline also helps them establish a young core along with Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, and Jared Sullinger going into next year.
The Lakers will have their hands full because of those four players tonight. After a slow start from his return from injury, Rondo has been more effective, averaging 15.2 points and 9.4 assists over the last five games. Green is the team’s leading scorer with 16.5 points per game and Sullinger has established himself as a solid option down low averaging 13.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
The Celtics enter the game having lost two in a row after they won four of their first five games in February. They are in the midst of a four-game west coast swing. They lost their first game of the road trip to Phoenix.
Boston has had their struggles scoring this season as they have the fifth-worst shooting percentage (43.6 percent) and the third-worst 3-point percentage (33.1 percent).
The Lakers, on the other hand, enter the showdown against the Celtics having only won five games since December 21. One of those five wins came against the Celtics in Boston in mid-January. The Lakers won a thriller led by Kendall Marshall’s clutch 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, 107-104, during their Grammy trip.
In fact, the Lakers have had their way against the Celtics as of late, winning five of their last six games against their biggest rival.
If the Lakers want to end their slump tonight, they will need to dictate the pace against a Celtics team that isn’t known for its offense, as mentioned above. They will also need to tighten up defensively and force the Celtics to take outside shots — something they haven’t been good at all year. The Lakers gave up 134 points to the Houston Rockets last time out despite shooting over 48 percent from the field in the loss.
Finally, Marshall needs to take the Blake trade as a vote of confidence. He needs to realize that he has officially earned playing time with the team. He’s not on the roster because of injuries anymore. He’s been playing extremely well (averaging 12.2 assists in the last five games) despite the team’s lack of success.
Other players who have stepped up for the Lakers recently are Chris Kaman (averaging 19.2 points in the last five games) and Jodie Meeks (averaging 19 points in the last five games).