Celtics Projected Starting Line-Up:
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Ray Allen
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Brandon Bass
C: Kevin Garnett
Key Reserves: C Jermaine O’Neal, SG Avery Bradley
Celtics Injured List: PF Chris Wallace- questionable (personal reasons), SF Mickael Pietrus- questionable (knee)
The Lakers return home to Staples Center from their chaotic three-game road trip to face their ultimate rival, the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are beginning a two-week road trip on Sunday and are coming off of a big win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday. The Lakers will count on their home comfort to sweep the regular season series against Boston. The Celtics are hoping to carry their momentum off of Friday’s win to Los Angeles to avenge their thrilling, overtime loss against the Lakers in early February in the TD Garden.
Frontcourt: Boston’s froncourt is small, especially when playing Kevin Garnett as the starting center. Bynum and Gasol need to take advantage of this opportunity and use their strength to control the paint. Garnett is still solidly averaging 14.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Coming off of a recent wrist injury only adds to the declining contribution of center reserve Jermaine O’Neal. O’Neal is averaging 5.0 points and 5.4 boards per game. Brandon Bass has increased the contributions that Glen “Big Baby” Davis gave to Boston. Therefore, Boston has been pleased with the trade so far. Bass is putting up 11.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this season. The Boston frontcourt is rounded out by Celtic veteran, Paul Pierce. The Southern Californian native, who recently passed Larry Bird on the Celtics all-time scoring list, is averaging a team leading 18.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.
Backcourt: The Celtics’ Rajon Rondo is arguably having his best year this season. Rondo is averaging 13.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists per game. Despite constant trade rumors surrounding Rondo, he has recorded four triple-doubles so far this season. Derek Fisher and Steve Blake will have a constant challenge in guarding Rondo, so expect Kobe Bryant to make a switch on the defensive end in order to guard him. Ray Allen continues to be a credible threat around the perimeter. Despite his overall averages of 14.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game all declining, his three-point percentage of 47.6 is the highest it’s ever been in his 15-year career. While Rondo and Allen dominate the Celtics’ backcourt, reserve shooting guard, Avery Bradley is contributing 4.4 points and 1.5 assists per game off the bench.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Control the Paint: The Lakers have to control the paint on both sides of the court, just as they did last Sunday against the Miami Heat. Gasol and Bynum need to clog the lane on the defensive side to prevent the Celtics from driving the ball into the lane for easy buckets, especially Rajon Rondo. The Lakers need to use their advantage of length against the Celtics’ smaller frontcourt. Bynum and Gasol were very aggressive in the February match-up in Boston, where Gasol scored 25 points and grabbed 14 boards and Bynum earned 16 points and 17 rebounds. The Lakers play their best when they run their offense from the inside-out. They need to aggressively use their biggest strength (their inside game) to capture the W.
Play with Intensity and Urgency: Any time you get the Lakers and the Celtics together, regardless of decade, roster or record, the tradition of rivalry between the two creates a game of intensity, emotion, energy and passion. The Lakers have had a difficult time displaying energy and passion at a consistent level throughout this season. Facing the Celtics this afternoon will force the team to play with a sense of urgency and aggression if they want a win and earn bragging rights against their rivals.
Don’t Let Pierce and Allen Have Big Games: In February’s match-up in Boston, the Lakers defense allowed Paul Pierce to score 18 points and 22 points for Ray Allen. In Friday’s victory for Boston against Portland, Pierce and Allen had 22 points each on a combined 15 for 27 shooting. The Lakers must limit at least on of these players’ games, while still defending the rest of the Celtics. Pierce averages 20.3 points in Boston victories this season. However, Pierce averages 15.7 points in Boston losses. Despite his age, Allen can get hot at the three-point line at anytime of the game. When both Pierce and Allen each have close to 20 or more points each, the chances for the Celtics earning a W after 48 minutes increases. Shutting down their offense will be key for a Laker victory.