The Celtics continue their 5 game Western Road trip with a stop in Los Angeles to play the Lakers. This is the second and final regular season game between these two teams. The Celtics won the first game in Boston 130-108 on November 19. The Celtics and Lakers were 1-1 last season with each team winning on the road. The Celtics haven’t won the season series against the Lakers since the 2016-17 season.
The Celtics are 6th in the East while the Lakers are 7th in the West. The Celtics are 7-7 on the road and 6-4 in their last 10 games. The Lakers are 8-7 at home and 4-6 in their last 10 games. The Celtics are coming off a win over the Trail Blazers while the Lakers are coming off a loss to the Clippers. The Celtics are 5-3 against Western Conference teams while the Lakers are 6-4 against Eastern Conference teams.
Including the Lakers’ time in Minneapolis, the Lakers and Celtics have met a total of 295 times in the regular season. The Celtics are 163-132 against them all time. They are 53-76 against the Lakers when playing in LA. They have met 204 times since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles and the Celtics are 109-95 in those games. They have met a total of 12 times in the Finals with the Celtics 9-3 in those matchups. The Celtics won the first 8 while the Lakers have won 3 of the last 4.
The Lakers have been off since Friday December 3 while the Celtics have been off since Saturday December 4. The Celtics are playing in the first of back to back games and will play the Clippers, also at the Staples Center, on Wednesday, December 8. The Lakers will play next on Thursday, December 9 at Memphis. The Celtics are 4-1 on the first night of back to back games, with that one loss against the Jazz in the first game of this road trip.
Both Al Horford (back) and Romeo Langford (ankle) missed Saturday’s game in Portland but are expected to play in this game, barring any set backs. Jaylen Brown is once again listed as questionable. NESN reported that Jaylen Brown (hamstring) was begging to play on Saturday but the Celtics are being very cautious with him and don’t want to play him unless he is 100%. His status is a game time decision. I’ve included Dennis Schroder in the starting lineup once again but if Jaylen can play, I expect him to return to his spot with the starters.
For the Lakers, Kendrick Nunn (knee) and Trevor Ariza (ankle) are both out. Neither player has suited up for the Lakers yet this season. Carmelo Anthony is listed as questionable with a non-covid illness. LeBron James is probable as they continue to monitor the abdominal strain that he has been playing through recently. On November 30 LeBron entered the Health and Safety protocols after a positive covid test but it was determined that it was a false positive and he returned to the court on December 2. Anthony Davis is also probable as he plays through a thumb injury.
This will be the final game between the Celtics and Lakers at the Staples Center. As of Christmas Day, the Staples Center will be renamed the Crypto.com Arena. The Staples Center opened in October of 1999. The Forum was the previous home to the Lakers before 1999. The Staples Center has hosted a pair of NBA Finals series between the two iconic rivals in 2008 and 2010.
Probable Celtics Starters
Jaylen Brown (hamstring) questionable
Al Horford (back) probable
Romeo Langford (ankle) probable
Probable Lakers Starters
Trevor Ariza (ankle) out
Kendrick Nunn (knee) out
Carmelo Anthony (illness) questionable
LeBron James (abdomen) probable
Anthony Davis (thumb) probable
Jayson Tatum vs LeBron James
LeBron is averaging a team high 25.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. He is shooting 47.5% from the field and 33.7% from beyond the arc. In spite of the fact that he will turn 37 in less than a month and that he has been playing through an abdominal strain, he finished Friday’s game with 23 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in 36 minutes. He always seems to put out extra effort when he plays against the Celtics also. Jayson Tatum has played very well in the first two games on this trip and hopefully he is past his earlier slump and can match up well with LeBron in this one. The Celtics need him to be at his best in this one.
Al Horford vs Anthony Davis
Davis is averaging 24.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. He is shooting 52.3% from the field but only 18.8% from beyond the arc. Davis has been playing through a thumb injury but it hasn’t seemed to bother him in recent games. He led the Lakers with 31 points in the first game and the Celtics will have their hands full trying to slow him down in this one.
Marcus Smart vs Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is averaging 20.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game. He is shooting 44.6% from the field and 32.0% from beyond the arc. Marcus Smart has the ability to get into Westbrook’s head and frustrate him and hopefully can do that in this game. Westbrook had only 12 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists in their first meeting. Hopefully the Celtics can limit him in this game also.
Keys to the Game
Defense - I can’t say it enough that defense is the most important key to winning. The Celtics are 9th in the league with a defensive rating of 106.5. The Lakers 17th with a defensive rating of 108.6. The Celtics have been playing good defense in recent games and they need to continue to make defense their identity in this game if they hope to get a win. They must stay committed to playing tough, lock down defense, especially against a Lakers team with plenty of offensive weapons. The Celtics must especially defend in the paint as the Lakers are 8th in the league with 47.6 points in the paint per game.
Rebound - Rebounding takes effort and energy and the Celtics will need both to out-rebound the Lakers. The Celtics need to crash the boards and keep the Lakers from getting second chance points and fast breaks as they are 4th in the league with 15.2 fast break points per game. The Celtics are averaging 46.5 rebounds per game (4th) while the Lakers are averaging 46.3 rebounds per game (6th). The Celtics must put out extra energy and effort to beat the Lakers to rebounds.
Play Hard for 48 Minutes - As well as the Celtics have played in the last two games, they still tend to let up on their effort at times during games. At times they play focused and are able to dominate. Then at other times they seem to lose focus and let teams out-play them. They absolutely have to come out ready to play right from the opening tip because if they get down to this Lakers team, it will be very tough to come back. And then, they have to play hard right up until the final buzzer. They need consistent effort, especially against a team like the Lakers.
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 most of 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.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics need to move the ball but they also need to make very careful passes. They need to avoid careless passes and they need to avoid dribbling out of control. The Lakers are 6th in the league with 18.3 points off turnovers per game and if the Celtics get sloppy in the least, the Lakers will make them pay.
On the Road - . The Celtics need to come into the game focused, especially the young guys who sometimes struggle on the road. They need to block out the distractions of playing in a different arena and time zone. The crowd will definitely be hostile and the Celtics can’t allow them to rattle them. They have to stay focused and play their game regardless of the distractions.
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 and vice versa. 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, LeBron always has a chip on his shoulder against the Celtics and especially now with Enes Freedom’s challenges to him. LeBron and his teammates are going to give extra effort to beat one of their biggest rivals. Also, it’s Larry Bird’s birthday - win this one for Larry Legend!!!
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. (Yes, I’m still bitter about this.) Hopefully they call it fair in this game and let both teams play.