The most storied rivalry in NBA history has to be Celtics vs Lakers. Including the years in Minneapolis, the Celtics and Lakers have met 292 times with the Celtics going 161-131. Since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles before the 1961-62 season, they have met 201 times with the Celtics winning 107 to 94 wins for the Lakers. They have met in the Finals 12 times with the Celtics winning 9 of those. The Celtics won the first 8 while the Lakers have won 3 of the last 4.
The Celtics loss to the Spurs on Wednesday dropped them to 5th in the East but they are just 2 games back of first place Philadelphia. The Lakers are now third in the West, just 1 behind first place Utah. The Celtics are 5-2 at home while the Lakers are 10-2 on the road. The Celtics are coming off one loss while the Lakers have lost their last 2 games.
We can expect the Lakers to come out angry after having their 10 game road win streak snapped in Philly on Wednesday and then losing a second straight game in Detroit on Thursday. This is their first 2 game losing streak all season. This is game 6 of a 7 game Eastern road trip for the Lakers while the Celtics will start on a 5 game Western road trip on Tuesday at Golden State.
LeBron James is listed as questionable for this game with a left ankle sprain. However, he has not missed a game all season even though he has been listed as questionable in several so I expect he will play. Anthony Davis missed Thursday’s game with a quad contusion and is questionable for this game. If he can’t play, Kyle Kuzma is likely to get the start.
Listed as out for the Lakers are Jared Dudley (calf) and Kostas Antetokounmpo (knee). For the Celtics, Payton Pritchard is still out with the knee sprain. They are targeting February 3 for his return. Romeo Langford is also still out as he rehabs after wrist surgery.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Payton Pritchard (knee) out
Probable Lakers Starters
Kostas Antetokounmpo (knee) out
Jared Dudley (calf) out
Anthony Davis (quad) questionable
LeBron James (ankle) questionable
Jaylen Brown vs LeBron James
LeBron is definitely a key matchup. He is averaging 25.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game. He is shooting 50% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. LeBron is the focal point of their offense and is next to impossible to stop. We are likely to see Semi Ojeleye and Marcus Smart trying to slow him down as well as possible double teams.
Jayson Tatum vs Anthony Davis
Davis is averaging 21.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He is shooting 52% from the field and 33% from three. Like LeBron, he is next to impossible to stop and the Celtics can only hope to slow him down. He is also a good defender who can make it difficult on Tatum on the offensive end. If Davis is out due to the quad injury, Kyle Kuzma should get the start in his place.
Kemba Walker vs Dennis Schroder
Schroder has given the Celtics problems in the past with both the Hawks and the Thunder. For the Lakers, he is averaging 13.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He is shooting 42% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc. He is capable of having a big game if he is not well defended.
Keys to the Game
Defense - I can’t say it enough that defense wins games. The Celtics are 13th in the league with a defensive rating of 112.2. The Lakers 1st with a defensive rating of 105.0. After being a top 4 defensive team last season, they have not played good defense consistently this season. As Brad Stevens put it after their loss to the Spurs, “their defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed.” The Celtics need to get back to making defense a priority. The Lakers will bring their defense and the Celtics have to match their defensive intensity if they want to get a win.
Rebound - Rebounding takes effort and energy and the Celtics will need both to out-rebound the Lakers. The Lakers are 2nd in the league with 15.0 second chance points per game and they average 14.2 fast break points. The Celtics need to crash the boards and keep the Lakers from getting second chance points and fast breaks. The Celtics are averaging 44.4 rebounds per game while the Lakers are averaging 46.5 rebounds per game. The Celtics must put out extra energy and effort to beat the Lakers to rebounds.
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. In their losses, 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.
Play Hard for 48 Minutes - The Celtics have been letting up their effort at times during games. Against the Spurs they played hard at times and were focused and able to dominate. Then at other times they seemed to lose focus and let the Spurs out-play them, especially down the stretch. 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.
Fatigue - The Lakers are playing in the 6th game of a 7 game Eastern road trip. They are also playing in their 3rd game in 4 nights. They have to be getting a bit road weary and even with all their talent, fatigue may be catching up to them. The Celtics have to take advantage of that and try to run them out of the gym.
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”. On the other hand, the Lakers have lost two straight, one to the 3rd worst team in the league. They are going to want to right the ship and get back to winning and so will give extra effort to do that against one of their biggest rivals.
Officiating - The officiating can always be 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 the refs call it fair in this game and let both teams play.