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Preview: Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics Game #42

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The storied rivalry of the Boston Celtics and LA Lakers continues as the Celtics host the Lakers on MLK Day.

New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Celtics and Lakers renew one of the most storied rivalries in NBA history. These two teams have met 12 times in the Finals: first in 1959 and last in 2010. The Celtics have won 17 championships while the Lakers have won 16 championships, 11 in Los Angeles and 5 in Minneapolis. The Celtics last title in 2008 came against the Lakers and the Lakers last title in 2010 was over the Celtics.

The Celtics have dropped to 4th in the East, half a game behind Toronto and 1.5 games behind Miami. They are also just half a game ahead of Philadelphia in 6th. They are 16-5 at home and 4-6 in their last 10 games and have lost their last 3 games. They are in the middle of a 3 game home stand. They are 8-5 against Western Conference teams.

The Lakers are first in the West and behind just the Bucks in the whole NBA. They are 4.5 games ahead of 2nd place Denver. They are 18-3 on the road and won their last game after a loss in the previous game but they have won 10 out of their last 11 games. This is the 2nd of a 5 game road trip that will take them through the Knicks, Nets and Sixers after this one. They are 11-4 vs Eastern Conference teams.

The last game between these two teams was in Boston in February of 2019. The Celtics lost that game as LeBron James had a triple double and Rajon Rondo hit the game winner at the buzzer to give the Lakers the win. The Celtics avenged that loss on March 9 when they beat the Lakers at the Staples Center 120-107. This is the first of 2 games between them this season. They will meet again in LA on February 23.

Jaylen Brown has missed the last 2 games with a sprained thumb. His MRI came back clear of serious injury and he is listed as questionable for this game. Kemba Walker missed the last game with knee soreness. His MRI also came back clear of structural damage. It appears that both Kemba and Jaylen will be playing in this game. Robert Williams remains out with a hip injury.

The Lakers are also dealing with some injuries. DeMarcus Cousins is out with a torn ACL and is not expected back until possibly the playoffs. Anthony Davis landed hard on his back and has missed the last 5 games. He did not participate in the Lakers’ Sunday workout but he is not on the morning injury list and so will likely play. Rajon Rondo has missed the last 3 games with a finger injury and is still listed as questionable. He will be a game time decision. Knowing Rondo, if he can possibly play against his old team, he will.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Romeo Langford
Javonte Green
Semi Ojeleye
Vincent Poirier
Brad Wanamaker
Grant Williams
Romeo Langford
Enes Kanter
Marcus Smart

Injuries/NWT
Carsen Edwards (g-league assignment) out
Robert Williams (hip) out
Jaylen Brown (thumb) probable
Kemba Walker (knee) probable

Two Way Players
Tremont Waters
Tacko Fall

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Lakers Starters

Lakers Reserves
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Alex Caruso
Quinn Cook
Troy Daniels
Jared Dudley
Talen Horton-Tucker
Dwight Howard
Kyle Kuzma

Injuries
DeMarcus Cousins (knee) out
Anthony Davis (back) probable
Rajon Rondo (finger) questionable

Two Way Players
Kostas Antetokounmpo
Devontae Cacok

Head Coach
Frank Vogel

Key Matchups

Gordon Hayward vs LeBron James
LeBron is definitely a key matchup. He is averaging 25.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 10.9 assists per game. He is shooting 49.2% from the field and 34.4% from beyond the arc. LeBron is the focal point of their offense and is next to impossible to stop. We will likely see Marcus Smart and maybe Semi Ojeleye along with Hayward trying to slow him down.

Jayson Tatum vs Anthony Davis
With the expectation that Davis will return from his injury for this game, Jayson Tatum’s job just got a lot tougher. Davis is averaging 27.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.6 blocks per game. He is shooting 50.4% from the field and 29.7% from beyond the arc. As with LeBron, it will likely take more than one person to slow him down. Hopefully he will be a step slow coming back from the injury, but I wouldn’t count on it. Jayson absolutely must be at his best defensively to keep Davis from having a huge game.

Honorable Mention
Celtics Centers vs Lakers Centers
The Lakers have two big and imposing centers in JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. Both are playing very well this season. JaVale McGee is averaging 7.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks. He is shooting 64.2% from the field and 66.7% from beyond the arc. Howard is averaging 7.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. He is shooting 72% from the field and 60% from beyond the arc. Theis and Kanter have to try to keep them out of the paint if at all possible and they also have to guard them all the way out to the 3 point line.

Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense wins games. The Celtics are 5th in the league with a defensive rating of 105.6. The Lakers 3rd with a defensive rating of 104.7. Over their last 10 games, the Celtics have let their defense slip and they rank just 14th in defensive rating over those games. The Celtics need to get back to making defense a priority. The Lakers will bring their defense and so the Celtics have to match their defensive intensity.

Rebound - Rebounding takes effort and energy and the Celtics will need both to out-rebound the Lakers. They need to crash the boards and keep the Lakers from getting second chance points and fast breaks. The Celtics are averaging 45.6 rebounds per game while the Lakers are averaging 45.8 rebounds per game. The Lakers are 2nd in points in the paint with 53.7 per game and 4th with 14.6 second chance points per game. The Celtics have to crash the boards to limit their put backs and second chance baskets.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to be aggressive in going to the basket, in diving for loose balls, and on defense. They have to aggressively crash the boards. They have to be the team that wants it more. Over their 3 game losing streak, they have allowed their opponents to play harder and be more aggressive. They absolutely can’t let the Lakers be more aggressive than them if they want to have a chance to win.

Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics need to share the ball and make the extra pass to find the best shot possible. When they over dribble and don’t play team ball, they never play very well. They have to move the ball. But, they also must take care of the ball because the Lakers are 2nd in fast break points with 18.0 points per game. If the Celtics get sloppy and turn the ball over, the Lakers will certainly make them pay.

Start Strong and Finish Strong - The Celtics have been coming out slow and getting down by double digits in the first quarter and although they seem to focus and play harder later in the game, they have struggled to get back in the game after the slow starts. They absolutely have to come out ready to play right from the opening tip. And then, they have to play hard right up until the final buzzer. They need consistent effort, especially against a team as good as the Lakers.

X-Factors
Home Court - The Celtics are home with the Garden crowd behind them. They should get a lift from the crowd and from playing on the familiar parquet floor. Hopefully the Garden faithful will be loud and rattle the Lakers enough for the Celtics to have the advantage.

Celtic Pride - “Beat LA” is one of the most iconic chants in sports. This is a storied rivalry and no matter the circumstances, the Celtics always want to beat the Lakers. The Celtics have to focus on the game and on playing the right way. It’s a matter of pride and the Celtics need to get the job done and “Beat LA”.

Officiating - The officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls the game differently and the Celtics have to adapt to how the game is being called and not allow bad calls and no calls to take away their focus. If you doubt that officiating is an x-factor, just think back to the last Finals between these two teams. In game 7, the Celtics were up 6 going into the 4th quarter. The refs had called the game evenly up until then. But in the 4th quarter, the referees took over and it cost the Celtics that game. The Lakers took 21 free throws in the 4th quarter alone while the Celtics took 6. The Lakers took more free throws in the 4th quarter than they did in the first 3 quarters combined. Hopefully they call it fair in this game and let both teams play.

BAD REF ALERT:Tony Brothers brings angst to every team’s fan base and he is the lead ref for this game. He was voted the worst ref in the league by 24.5% of the players in their recent survey. With Brothers, you never know what you will get. Sometimes he calls everything on both teams. Sometimes he lets both teams play. And, sometimes he calls a game one sided for one of the teams. Basically, he is just bad. Hopefully we get the Tony Brothers that lets them play both ways in this game. Usually when fans of any team sees Brothers calling their games, they cringe.