Caught in the Web: Lakers gear up for Celtics showdown
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has referred to the team's contest today against the Boston Celtics as a measuring-stick game, and there are a lot of dimensions the Lakers can calculate.
Can the Lakers (36-11) pick up a signature road win against the Celtics (29-15) after starting out their eight-game trip with a loss to Cleveland? The Lakers are currently 4-2 on the trip, but all of those victories came against teams with records below .500. Kurt Helin of Forum Blue and Gold rightfully notes in a round table hosted by the Kamenetzky Brothers that both teams "know that games in January don't determine the outcome of games in June." Still, the Lakers said last season's undefeated six-game trip, including a win at Boston, helped give them confidence come playoff time. So even though this game won't make or break anyone's season, it can still provide answers regarding the team's identity.
Both the Lakers (36-11) and Celtics (29-15) are currently going through a grinding stretch. The Lakers are on the tail end of their travels, while Boston is in the middle of a four-games-in-five-nights trip, an effort that hasn't gone well, with losses to Orlando and Atlanta thus far. The Lakers don't expect their recent success (three-game winning streak) and the Celtics' recent struggles (two-game losing streak) to have much bearing on the final outcome.
There are too many variables.
There are injuries: Bryant twisted his left ankle Friday in the Lakers' victory over Phialdelphia, but he played through injury and told reporters after Saturday's practice that it was fine and he won't sit out (would you expect anything else?). Boston forward Kevin Garnett recently hyper-extended his knee, which sidelined him for 10 games. Asked if that was a factor in his six points on two-of eight shooting against Orlando, Garnett said no but spoke harshly of his on-court performance.
Then there's (here we go again) the issue of whether the Lakers are soft: It's cliched, stale and predictable, I know. But whether it's fair, a poor inside showing from Pau Gasol against an opponent known for its physicality in front of a national audience will surely make the national commentary on the Lakers rather easy. It's an issue Bryant has talked about ever since last week's loss to Cleveland, and Gasol says he's ready to "bring it."
There are key defensive matchups: The Celtics feature point guard Rajon Rando, who was most recently selected as a reserve in what will be his first All-Star appearance and has the second-best efficiency rating among Eastern Conference guards. Given the Lakers' consistent inefficiency in defending at the point, this may spell trouble, unless as Silver Screen and Roll predicts, "Kobe presumably will be assigned to Rondo, whom Derek Fisher has no hope of impeding." Then there's the presumed matchup between Ron Artest and Paul Pierce, who's coming off a season-high 35 points on 11-of-15 shooting against Atlanta. After a rough month that included recovering from a Christmas-night concussion and plantar fasciitis in both feet, Artest put in a month-best 18 points on seven-of-13 shooting against Philadelphia. More importantly, his foot problems have improved, meaning Artest could be a valuable asset in neutralizing Pierce.
More Lakers and Celtics links (after the jump)
--The Times' Mike Bresnahan details how the Lakers orchestrated getting Gasol two years ago in a trade from Memphis, later resulting in a 2008 NBA Finals appearance and a 2009 championship.
--The Gasol trade also prompted San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich to suggest there should be a committee that prevents such one-sided trades from happening, which entailed Memphis getting Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, the rights to Marc Gasol and two first-round picks (2008, 2010). Poppovich recently softened his stance. "They gave up a great player, but it helped them extend the franchise's success into the future," Popovich said of Memphis to the Commercial Appeal.
-- The Celtics have gone through lots of adversity this season with various injuries and inconsistent performances, so much so that The Times' Mark Heisler thinks that Celtics' dynasty featuring the Big Three (Garnett, Pierce, Ray Allen) is really just a "one-and-done."
-- Take a trip down memory lane and relive some of the top Lakers and Celtics games by viewing ESPN Los Angeles' photo gallery. Vote in Brian Kamanetzky's poll on the best games in the rivalry's history. And see Bob Ryan's Top 12 list from the Boston Globe.
-- Lakers Coach Phil Jackson reminisces about games he was in as a former Knicks player against Boston at the Garden. The difference between past Boston fans and those of today? "It' a little more civilized crowd."
-- It's Lakers-Celtics. Of course, ESPN's Bill Simmons has something to say about it.
Tweet of the day: "Bryant showed us his unbandaged finger at practice. He claims its '80 pct' better but he could barely bend it & it was swollen like a slug" --mcten (ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin)
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kevin Garnett has struggled with injuries since the Celtics won the NBA title in 2008. Credit: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images