The Los Angeles Lakers return home to Staples Center after a demanding seven-game road trip, but as they prepare to battle Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics, they’ll receive support from the crowd as fans will be in attendance for the first time this season.
The Lakers’ injury report heading into the contest is just as crammed as it has been lately. Andre Drummond (toe), Kyle Kuzma (calf), Wesley Matthews (Achilles), Dennis Schroder (pelvis contusion) and Marc Gasol (hamstring) are all probable, while Markieff Morris (ankle) is questionable after missing the previous game.
For the Celtics, Robert Williams III is questionable with knee soreness and guard Evan Fournier (health and safety protocols) is out.
This matchup is the second, and last, meeting between the two in the regular season. Back in January, the Lakers held off the Celtics 96-95 in a slugfest that came down to the final second. But L.A. had LeBron James and Anthony Davis available in that game, unlike tonight.
On the season, the Celtics have fluctuated with consistency, which is why they’re currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, though not too long ago, they were vying for one of the play-in seeds. However, they’ve shifted gears during the last seven games, winning six of those matches.
Most of their success has come on the defensive side of the ball. On the season, they measure out as a middle-of-the-road unit in many defensive statistics, but their resurgence is more prominent lately. In the last seven games, they’re forcing opponents to shoot just 43.6% from the field, the third-best rate in the league.
But their perimeter defense still oscillates, so if the Lakers can find a rhythm from 3-point range, they have an opportunity to punish them.
The Celtics are also allowing opponents to grab nine offensive rebounds a game, the ninth-best mark in the last seven games. Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell, who often alternate at the center position, will have to fight against big men like Williams and Tristan Thompson down low to fight for extra possessions. The Celtics swarm attackers in the perimeter, so second-chance points will be pivotal.
One Laker who will be imperative in dissecting the Celtics’ defense in Dennis Schroder, a player head coach Frank Vogel recently praised for shouldering the offensive burden in the manner he has.
Schroder’s speed can help draw in help defenders which could free up opportunities for centers in the dunker spot, open perimeter shooters or backdoor cuts to the basket. Schroder is coming off a six-assist outing against Charlotte, and they’ll need his passes to hit the target tonight.
Defensively, the Lakers’ primary task is to peg the production of Tatum, who is having a monstrous month of performances, averaging 29.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 51.1% from the field and 41.3% from deep on high volume.
Tatum recently dropped 53 points in a game, so the momentum is evident. Luckily for Los Angeles, they have the defensive capability to attempt to reduce his output. The combination of defenders like Kuzma, Morris, Matthews, Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope all play a huge role in the Lakers allowing opponents, as a team, to shoot 44.4% from the field, the fifth-best rate in the league over the last seven games.
That percentage improves for 3-pointers, as the Lakers allow just 27.6% of threes to go in defensively. Boston is shooting 38.7% from deep in their last seven matches, so L.A. has the potential to neutralize that.
But even if it’s not Tatum dealing the damage, Boston has healthy alternatives in Jaylen Brown, the rising multi-faceted wing, Kemba Walker, the savvy veteran ball-handler and Marcus Smart, the pesky, versatile defender, who all can compete as complete two-way stars.
If the Lakers can win the bench battle, force Boston into a shoddy 3-point shooting night and have their own shooters aid Schroder, L.A. can start off their homestand right — and the fans will surely help against the longtime rivals.
Lakers (34-21) vs. Celtics (29-26)
7:00 p.m. PT, April 15, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Kyle Kuzma
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Andre Drummond
Key Reserves: Montrezl Harrell, Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews, Talen Horton-Tucker, Ben McLemore
Projected Celtics starting lineup:
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Robert Williams III
Key Reserves: Tristan Thompson, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, Romeo Langford
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