8 P.M. ET – TD Garden
Boston: 105.4 points/100 possessions (13th)
Los Angeles: 109.3 points/100 possessions (3rd)
Boston: 97.7 points allowed/100 possessions (2nd)
Los Angeles: 102.0 points allowed/100 possessions (8th)
Probable Lakers starters:
- Derek Fisher (PG)
- Kobe Bryant (SG)
- Ron Artest (SF)
- Pau Gasol (PF)
- Andrew Bynum (C)
Current Celtics Injuries:
Shaquille O’Neal, Semih Erden, Jermaine O’Neal, Delonte West, Marquis Daniels
Thumbnail: It’s Ray Allen’s night.
The outcome of tonight’s game will take a back seat to Allen’s quest for two three-point shots. The first will tie him with Reggie Miller for first overall in NBA history with 2560. The second will break the record.
The game itself carriers real import for the C’s, less for their need to benchmark themselves against their main challenger for the championship, than for the jostling for home-court advantage in the playoffs. Miami is only a half-game behind Boston, and L.A., for all the recent chaos around the team, is only three games back in the loss column.
Injuries be damned, Boston can’t let up off the gas pedal.
In lieu of our traditional preview, we reached out to Darius Soriano at the True Hoop Network’s must-read Lakers site Forum Blue & Gold. He was kind enough to field some questions for us on the state of the Lakers. I also answered a few questions over there, including a rather declarative statement about what the Celtics need to do about the Marquis Daniels injury.
But now, onwards to the Q&A, which Darius stuffed with a ton of insight into Black Mamba & the Zen Masters.
CelticsHub: There have been a number of ‘it’s time to panic!’-style stories surrounding the Lakers since they lost to the Celtics last week. It all seems overblown for a team with the second best offense in the league and a top-10 defense . What’s your state of the nation?
Forum Blue & Gold: I’d agree that the panic is a bit overblown, but when you’re dealing with high expectations, that’s going to happen when a team doesn’t perform as well as many would like. Celtics fans should be familiar with this from their run last season.
All that said, things clearly aren’t perfect or even where I’d want them to be. I have concerns regarding their defense from game to game and on offense the turnover bug has popped up too often for my liking. From an individual standpoint, Fisher, Blake, and Artest have not been as consistent as I would hope. But in the larger scheme of things, I don’t think any of these drawbacks are fatal flaws that can’t be overcome in the pursuit of their ultimate goal.
In some ways, I think the drama surrounding this team is a given as the Kobe/Phil-era Lakers have always seemed to inspire questions or second guessing about whether or not they’d get it done. So really, this is just par for the course. For the fans, the roller coaster nature of a long NBA campaign is tough to deal with, but I still feel this team is well positioned to make a deep playoff run.
CH: What’s the biggest barrier sitting between the Lakers and a three-peat?
FB&G: I’d say there are two factors and they go hand in hand. First and foremost, the opposition is just better this season. The Spurs, Heat, and Celtics all look to be stronger than last season and when you throw in the Thunder gaining post season experience last year (along with the improved individual play of Westbrook and the always fantastic Durant) they’ll also be a tough out. So, while the Lakers are no worse a team than last year, merely being as good as the team that won the title likely won’t be good enough this season.
The second factor is health. We all know that Bynum has had his share of injury issues over the years but this year the Lakers will need him as close to 100% as possible if they hope to make a deep run. Right now, Barnes is also out after suffering a torn meniscus but he’ll need to be back and contributing by the time the playoffs start (which he should be) in order to give the Lakers that extra wing defender. In seasons past, the Lakers margin for error was larger and a hobbled Bynum or a missing wing (last season Kobe played back up SF for most of the season) didn’t hamper them too severely. This year, though, with the field of true contenders much stronger, they’ll need their health to claim the trophy.
CH: Artest and Bynum. Will they both be Lakers post trade-deadline?
FB&G: I’d say yes. I know with the latest round of ‘Melo/Bynum rumors and the story about Ron wanting out that this is the hot topic surrounding the Lakers, but both of those players are key to the Lakers’ defense and will be depended upon when the playoffs begin. Whether it’s Ginobili, Durant, Rudy Gay, or Carmelo in the West or Lebron, Wade, or Pierce in the East (should the Lakers advance that far) there are too many wing threats for the Lakers to go through for Artest to be thought of as a spare part that can easily be replaced or given away (even with Barnes on the roster).
As for Bynum, most people understand that the Lakers main strength is their size and versatility up front (along with that Kobe guy, of course). A combo of Bynum and Gasol allows the Lakers to start two legitimate 7 footers and when you combine those two with Odom you have a mix of front court talent that is tough to match up with across the league. I just don’t see the Lakers surrendering this advantage to upgrade their offense on the wing or at point guard. Especially not when the Lakers have had been the top offensive team – both in points per game and in efficiency – for most of the season.
CH: Kobe seemed to take Henry Abbott’s findings on clutch-ness to heart in the last C’s-Lakers tilt. But all those fourth quarter ISOs played into Boston’s hands. Should we expect something different tonight?
FB&G: I honestly thought Kobe’s approach in the last game was a bit overblown. While he did go to a lot of isolation plays in the 4th quarter, I thought that had more to do with how the entire team was playing up to that point rather than his want to prove or disprove what anyone was saying/writing about him. And really, this approach fell right in line with how Kobe has operated in the most of the games this season. On nights where he’s mostly single covered he’ll be aggressive in looking for his own shot while trying to pick out teammates that are actively cutting and moving off the ball. When Kobe is double teamed or the defense shifts a second defender in his direction, he’s a willing passer. In the last Celtics/Lakers game, what we saw was a breakdown of other Lakers actively participating in the offense and Kobe then taking it upon himself to score (as Phil Jackson said after the game it really didn’t look like any other players wanted the ball). I thought he could have balanced this approach better in the last few minutes of the game, but overall I saw a lot of reluctance from other Lakers to be as aggressive as they needed to be.
To answer your question though, I anticipate the Lakers relying less on wing isolations and more on standard post ups for Pau, Bynum, and Kobe. This will allow them go at their defenders from better positions on the floor and more effectively compromise the Celtics help schemes. I envision better off ball movement and harder/crisper screens to free up players off the ball to make easier catches in order to generate the offensive balance that’s needed to beat a defensive juggernaut like the Celtics. The ball must work inside out with the post play of Gasol featured prominently throughout the contest. This game plan is not new as these teams have faced off countless times in the past several seasons. It’s just a matter of not pressing and sticking to it even when the team comes up with empty possessions. Because, again, when you play such a strong defensive team, that’s going to happen.
CH: Who do you have making the finals in both conferences?
FB&G: Before the season started I had the Lakers and Celtics meeting again and I’ll stick to that. The Celtics look as good as ever and seem to have a schematic and chemistry advantage over the Heat and other Eastern contenders. As for the Lakers, this year will be a test to get back to the Finals due to the aforementioned stiff and improved competition out West but still think they’ll get it done. I could easily see tough series in the 2nd round and Conference Finals that really push them, where key victories will need to be had on the road. But I still think it will be very difficult to defeat them in a seven-game series as the game slows, team-specific game plans get implemented, and the opposition actually has to deal with a focused, motivated, and deep Laker team.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE FROM BOSTON TONIGHT:
Strong interior defense as Gasol and Bynum attempt to rebound from their soft performances against the Celtics in Los Angeles. Effective minutes from Von Wafer at the backup small forward position. Rondo overcoming whatever the Lakers throw at him – be it Kobe playing centerfield or Fisher/Blake D’ing up on him. Also, an all-time record being matched and then shattered.
Ray breaks the record in the first quarter and final score looks something like:
Boston 94 Los Angeles 92