When the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers meet, you can throw out the records. Sure, both teams are circling around the .500 mark early in this season, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s Celtics vs Lakers! It’s Boston vs LA! East Coast vs West Coast! History vs Hollywood!
Here’s what we’ve got our eyes on in this one:
1. Who plays? The Celtics have already ruled out Jaylen Brown, as he continues to work his way back from a hamstring strain. Robert Williams remains questionable to play with knee soreness, while Dennis Schroder was a late addition to the injury report due to a sprained left ankle.
On the Lakers side, all eyes are on LeBron James. He’s been getting closer to a return from an abdominal strain for about a week now. Los Angeles head coach Frank Vogel said James is a game-time decision for Friday’s contest.
2. Pace: The Celtics have tended to slog through games, despite Ime Udoka initially urging his team to play faster. With injuries, and a limited offense, it seems Udoka has embraced a slow-paced, defense-first style for his team.
The Lakers play at the league’s second-fastest pace, despite the advanced age of their roster. This often features Russell Westbrook making coast-to-coast forays off rebounds, but Anthony Davis like to push the ball too, as do a handful of the Lakers guards.
Whichever team can get the game played in their style will go a long way towards deciding who wins this game.
3. Is Jayson Tatum back? Tatum put together a big game in a loss at Atlanta on Wednesday. He’s had a couple of other big-scoring games this season where he shot well, then Tatum has fallen right back into a slump. Was this really the slump-breaker?
In the past, when Tatum has broken out of a slump, he’s tended to go on a multi-game heater. Boston would gladly welcome that, as points have been difficult to come by for this group.
4. Free throw shooting: Los Angeles fouls a lot. They put teams at the line the second-most of any team in the NBA. Despite some bellyaching to contrary, Boston actually draws the 10th most free throws per game. Both of those stats hold true for both the Celtics and Lakers even when adjusting for pace.
Look for this to be a deciding factor in this one, especially if Boston can get the game played at a slower pace than LA wants.