The Grammy road trip continues for the Los Angeles Lakers, as they head into a Friday showdown against the Boston Celtics, in the second game of a back-to-back. Thursday’s opener against the Washington Wizards was a hard fought contest, as their comeback attempt fell short in the end.
The Lakers received some uplifting news on Thursday, as legend Magic Johnson announced that he is returning to the franchise in an advisory role. Some reports state that Johnson is bringing about many changes with him, as he attempts to help guide the franchise on a right path. Johnson had a special on Spectrum SportsNet last night, while also having a meeting with Jeanie Buss and the Lakers brass.
Alas, the enthusiasm and joyful attitude Johnson brings won’t help the Lakers on the court, as they currently have lost 10 straight road games. With the Grammy trip forcing a string of five consecutive road games, the Lakers attempt to halt the skid against the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference.
Although the matchup between the Lakers and Celtics doesn’t have the same classic rivalry feeling, both teams are playing for historical significance. Entering Friday, both teams lead the NBA in all-time victories, with an NBA-record 3,252 regular season victories.
The Celtics own one of the more physical backcourts in the NBA, while also having the ultimate threat in Isaiah Thomas. The East All-Star leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring and is actually on pace to set a record for most points in a quarter. Scoring wise, he has carried this Celtics team, as he is the continual option in the clutch.
Avery Bradley, one of the best defensive guards in the NBA, is currently listed as doubtful for Friday’s contest, as he continues to battle back from a sore Achilles. Although he has returned to practice, the franchise is determined to play it safe with a player who may be an X-factor in the playoffs.
In his absence, Marcus Smart has stepped it up big time, as a defensive nuisance and a reliable scoring option. His hustle and basketball IQ is displayed on both ends, as he also isn’t scared of physicality in the paint. Backup guard Terry Rozier will also see some action, filling the void for the third guard in the rotation.
Upon returning from injury, point guard D’Angelo Russell has stepped it up. In his last two games, he has come close to eclipsing the triple-double mark, reaching the 10-assist marker for the first and second time in his career. Russell also could have tacked on more assists in the stat sheet, if not for some ugly finishes and catches from his teammates.
Shooting guard Nick Young enters the contest on the verge of good news, as he was selected to compete in the three-point shootout during All-Star Weekend. His 41.6 three point percentage is currently in the top 10 in the NBA, while he is also on pace to set a career-high.
Head coach Luke Walton also has the luxury of two scoring guards off the bench, as Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams have never been shy in igniting the offense. While playing alongside the energetic second unit, either Clarkson or Williams can be seen carrying the offense, often for long stretches.
The guards of the Lakers need to do a good job of executing their passes and limiting their turnovers, or else the anxious and tenacious guards of the Celtics may be off and running.
The Celtics frontcourt received a huge boost during the offseason, as they signed All-Star center Al Horford. Aside from his concussion earlier this season, he has adjusted well with his new team and can be a presence with his ability to score in the paint and stretch the floor out.
Stevens elected to return Amir Johnson back into the starting lineup over Jonas Jerebko, as it may be a matchup situation moving on. Johnson came over from the Toronto Raptors and fills that power forward hole for his team. Jerebko has a different role compared to Johnson, as he often trails his teammates and can be a spot up shooter around the three-point line.
Jae Crowder rounds out the starting lineup for the 31-18 Celtics, as a small forward that fills up the stat sheet. In his fifth season (second with the Celtics), he is averaging 14.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.0 steals in 32.4 minutes of action per game. Highflying rookie Jaylen Brown is a burst of energy when on the floor, putting on a spectacle for the TD Garden.
Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller create quite the tandem off the bench, with both big men playing physical in the paint while crashing the boards. Their energy and athleticism may be a problem for the Lakers, as they continually run the floor and find open areas to cause havoc. However, Olynyk is dealing with a shoulder injury and is listed as questionable for the game.
Small forward Luol Deng is coming off of a highly efficient contest against the Wizards, where he scored 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Along with six rebounds and a block, Deng was active on the floor, including a nice poster dunk while driving down the lane.
Tarik Black received a spot start on Thursday, contributing heavily and obtaining a double-double before the end of the contest. While Julius Randle continues to deal with Pneumonia, Black should receive an increased role. Black is the strongest Laker on the roster, as he is not scared of any opponents driving down the lane.
Timofey Mozgov and Black will likely split minutes guarding Horford, as he is the only low-post scoring option for the Celtics. Although Mozgov’s minutes have been cut of late, he has relished a mentor role with rookie Ivica Zubac, constantly giving him feedback on how to improve his game.
Rookie Brandon Ingram will likely pair against a smaller player tonight, as the Celtics aren’t afraid of a three-guard lineup at times. The small forward has steadily shown that he is progressing, as Walton has Ingram leading all rookies in minutes played this season.
Larry Nance Jr. has returned to the Lakers, after dealing with a knee injury and a head collision against the Portland Trail Blazers. His high basketball IQ is a catalyst for the bench mob, as he fills in the role that the second unit desperately needs. His minutes have come at a bit of a restriction, as fans patiently wait for that Nance Jr. breakout game.
Three Keys To Victory:
Attempt To Slow Down Isaiah Thomas
Albeit it is easier said than done, the Lakers cannot let Thomas get going if they want to possibly win their 53rd game of the season. Thomas currently averages a career high 29.7 points per game, but he is currently averaging 36.0 points per game over his last nine contests. The Lakers guards need to do a phenomenal job of not losing track of Thomas, if he spots up creatively and executes the pick and roll to perfection.
Add Fuel To The Rivalry
The Lakers-Celtics rivalry is the most recognized rivalry in all of the NBA, while also being one of the most recognized rivalries in all of professional sports. The TD Garden will be lively on Friday, as they are always amped for a matchup against their longtime archrivals. In the first contest in Boston in the post-Kobe Bryant era, the Lakers must not let the crowd get into their heads. They have shown countless times that they are capable of a comeback, as a streaky three-point shooting team.
Continue To Feed Off Of Each Other
The Lakers have fed off of Russell’s return to the lineup, as he has taken a playmaking role. He has had at least 17 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds over his last two games, entertaining a role that the Lakers have been patiently waiting for. Upon receiving that post game shout out from Nick Young, who jokingly stated this is what the team has been waiting for.
Los Angeles Lakers (17-35) Vs. Boston Celtics (31-18)
5:00 P.M. PST, February 3rd, 2017
TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
TV: ESPN, CNE, TWC
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Celtics Lineup:
PG: Isaiah Thomas
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jae Crowder
PF: Amir Johnson
C: Al Horford
Key Reserves: Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Tyler Zeller, Jonas Jerebko
Projected Lakers Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Tarik Black
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr., Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson