The Lakers are in town to take on the Celtics tonight and the all-star reserves are being named as well. We’re 5-on-5’ing with Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston on those plus other Celtics-Lakers-related topics.
For the first time, we also have (formal) contributions from CelticsHub readers. We had a great response to yesterday’s post, with tons of worthy answers, so if you didn’t make it in today, hit us up again next week.
Today, we start off with a little thought experiment:
1. If Paul Pierce had played the first half of his career with Shaq instead of Antoine Walker, how would we regard him today?
Chris Forsberg: So let’s assume that, by having Shaq in his heyday, Pierce and the Celtics win a trio of titles like the Lakers did from 2000-02 (a big assumption, but follow me here). Those titles are about the only thing missing from Pierce’s resume to cement his spot among the franchise’s all-time greats. Sure, he’ll never get 11 like Russell or 8 like Hondo, but if he got three (or even two), then it’s a whole lot easier to move him up into the conversation with Cousy and Cowens, and maybe even Bird.
Hayes Davenport: Pierce could certainly have won three championships with Shaq, but he’d have been more of a second-banana than Kobe. His game and his facial hair are a little too unconventional to be marketable, and he doesn’t have the ego to compete for control of the team with Shaq, which played an unappreciated role in making Kobe famous. Pierce could conceivably have been even less appreciated than he is now, because he may never have gotten the chance to carry a team on his own.
Brendan Jackson: It really depends on how great they were together. Early in his career Shaq played with Penny Hardaway and they didn’t win any championships. It’s obvious that Shaq and Pierce were great players even early in their careers but they were also different players with different mindsets. People will quickly go on to speculate how many championships they would have won but I would be more concerned with how it would have affected Pierce’s development.
Brian Robb: He’d be bumped up to a higher tier when we think about how he ranks with the greatest of all-time, thanks to a few additional rings on his fingers. It’s impressive enough to see the numbers Pierce posted alongside Antoine Walker and a subpar supporting cast, but if Pierce played with the man who gave him his “Truth” nickname, defenses would have been unable to key in solely on him, and that lack of attention would have pushed his shooting percentages to sensational levels.
CelticsHub Reader Tom Bond: Is this Kobe-bait? Certainly, Pierce would’ve won more games and, probably, titles. The reality, though, is that he’s never left the Celtics and he won a championship here. With Shaq, he probably moves a few spots up the “greatest players ever” conversation but, all told, things turned out just fine for #34.
2. JaJuan Johnson was great against Memphis. Where does his season go from here?
Forsberg: As we’ve seen this season, when everyone is healthy, roles for all of the rookies (JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore and Greg Stiemsma) are incredibly limited. Everyone was high on Moore when both Rajon Rondo and Keyon Dooling were out, but even with just Rondo back, it’s been hard for him to find minutes. Johnson just needs to keep working hard regardless of minutes and be ready to step in when injuries provide opportunities. There’s a lot to like about a big man with that sort of athleticism.
Davenport: His season has arrived at its destination, I’m afraid. He’s made the leap from bench installation piece to rotation player in back-to-backs, but he’s going to be at least the team’s fifth big for the remainder of the season, probably continuing to lose third center minutes to Stiemsma. Crazily, even that role would make him the most successful Celtics’ first-round pick since… Al Jefferson.
Jackson: Assuming everyone’s healthy, right back to where he was a week ago. Doc Rivers will tell you over and over again that he’s a player but we also know from past experience that Rivers hesitates when playing rookies. If Chris Wilcox and Brandon Bass are healthy, it’s doubtful we’ll see Johnson in the playoffs.
Robb: Probably nowhere until another big man goes down. With this squad, that will likely be sooner than later though, so he should stay ready. It’s probably been difficult to remain patient for JaJuan as everyone else on the Celtics roster got an extended opportunity at meaningful minutes before he did. He’s now shown Doc he’s a certifiable threat to score the ball in bunches. That skill may make it more likely for Rivers to give him a chance and rest Kevin Garnett when the schedule gets more grueling.
CelticsHub Reader Scott Selfridge: When you look at a player like JJJ on a Doc Rivers team, you have to understand that rookies don’t usually get a lot of playing time. Doc will play him if he needs him, but when it comes to big time opponents, I am not sure Doc has enough trust in him to produce on the floor, especially on the defensive end.
3. Which Celtics will be named as all-star reserves tonight?
Forsberg: Pierce and Rondo. You can really make the case for the entire Big Four to be named reserves again this year in a top-heavy Eastern Conference, but Pierce and Rondo are the two players that opposing teams worry most about. KG has been coming on strong and deserves consideration for his efforts at both end of the court, while poor Ray Allen probably gets overlooked despite his insane shooting percentages from the floor (50 percent) and beyond the arc (52.6 percent) through 20 games.
Davenport: Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Pierce has pole-vaulted the other Celtics stars to become the team’s best player, and Rondo is the second-best point guard in the Conference (tied with Jeremy Lin). Garnett might get some consideration out of respect/fear, but while I feel like he actually enjoys All-Star Weekend more than most veterans, he should stay home in a Brookstone massaging foot spa.
Jackson: Paul Pierce is a definite but I could see any number of the rest of the Big Four getting the nod as well. Of course, so many All Stars end up on the team based on reputation and career achievements so nothing would surprise me at this point.
Robb: Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce. The point guard’s numbers are too impressive to ignore, despite his extended absence. Pierce will get the recognition he deserves for his recent stretch, playing as well as anyone in the league while sparking the turnaround of the C’s season. Garnett and Allen have a case, but the team’s slow start will keep them home.
CelticsHub Reader Kevin Cote: Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Paul is a lock; he has been the catalyst that turned the talk in Beantown from ‘Will Danny blow it up’ to ‘How far can these guys go?’ Given his recent accomplishments and off-the-charts PER, Paul is the one certainty for the All-star game. Rondo is a question mark if only due his injuries and absence for much of the recent turnaround.
4. The Lakers and C’s have nearly identical records. Which team is a more viable championship contender?
Forsberg: Can I sit on the fence and say it’s probably dead even? Both teams are essentially in the same position they’ve been in for the past few years — if they are healthy and save their best ball for the postseason, they have championship potential (Lakers get a slight edge because of overall talent). If injuries crop up or either team can’t find their typical chemistry in May, it’s going to be tough for both teams to get out of the second round. But you simply can’t rule either one out based on their experience and talent, particularly in a shortened season.
Davenport: The Lakers, purely by their competition. The three best teams in the NBA play in the East, and the Celtics have to beat at least two of them just to get to the Finals. I can see them potentially losing their entire roster to injury in three bloody rounds with Philly, Miami, and Chicago, with only Ray Allen surviving to play the Thunder like Sigourney Weaver at the end of Alien. The Lakers will have an easier road no matter who they draw.
Jackson: Eeesh…this is a tough one. I wouldn’t count either team out but I also wouldn’t be confident picking either team. When it comes down to it, I’ll pick Doc Rivers over Mike Brown every single time.
Robb: Celtics by a whisker. Boston is the more talented team right now from top to bottom, while the Lakers took a step back with their personnel after being swept out of the Western Conference Semifinals. The C’s also have greater continuity in their starting five and trust in their head coach, something Brown is still looking to earn out west. Neither team should be considered a serious contender at the moment, but Boston has to be considered the bigger threat.
CelticsHub Reader Jason Whetzell: It really depends on if the Lakers can get a backcourt and if the Celtics can get a center. They don’t have to sign all-stars, just bonafide starters. It neither team gets anyone, then neither. If both… then both!
5. Prediction time: what happens tonight?
Forsberg: Lakers need it more; Celtics are playing better. Like we saw in the 2010 Finals, it probably comes down to the team that rebounds better. It seems like the road team is always inspired to play in this rivalry, so let’s give the nod to the Lakers, but Boston atones in early March.
Davenport: The Celtics ride their momentum. The two Laker bigs are a huge nightmare, but Kobe will take plenty of shots away from them and the Laker bench will continue to show why it’s largely made up of players who were cut by bad teams. But if the Lakers were in the midst of a homestand instead of their longest roadie of the season, things might go differently: these teams are very even right now. Celtics 94, Lakers 89.
Jackson: Celtics are at home and they’re rolling so I’ll definitely go green tonight. I’ll also predict that the C’s will get killed on the glass, Kobe will have a big scoring game, and the Lakers’ bench will get destroyed.
Robb: The Lakers. With two off-days and two straight losses, the visitors should be motivated and rested enough to end their road trip on a high note. The two-headed monster of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will give Boston problems on the offensive glass and Kobe’s frantic scoring from all over the floor should be enough to overcome Boston’s defense. The two squads have played a bunch of tight ones in Boston lately and this should be no different. Lakers take it 87-85.
CelticsHub Reader Robert Levine: L.A. is on the road and have lost three of their last six games, including two straight on the road to the Jazz and Philly. They now have nine road losses (though one was to the Clippers — so count it or not). The Celtics are surging and taking care of business at home. Hard fought game — defense wins over L.A. and Kobe, who gets his points but not much else. Celtics 87 Lakers 84.