The Celtics finish their 3 game road trip in Los Angeles to take on the Lakers. This is the 2nd and final regular season game between these two games. The Lakers beat the Celtics 96-95 in Boston on January 30. Smart left that game with 10:28 left in the game after injuring his calf. This is the Lakers’ first game home after a 7 game Eastern road trip.
Just as with the Blazers on Tuesday, the Lakers are playing in the 3rd game in 4 nights, having played back to back on the road on Monday and Tuesday. The Lakers have won the last two meeting between these two teams. The Celtics are 161-132 all time vs the Lakers and 52-76 in Los Angeles. These teams have met 12 times in the Finals with the Celtics winning 9 of those
The Celtics are in 5th place in the East. The Celtics are 1 game behind the Hawks (4th), with the Hawks also playing on Thursday. They are half a game ahead of New York (6) and 1 game ahead of Miami (7). They are 1.5 games ahead of Charlotte (8) and 2.5 games ahead of Indiana (9). The Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have won their last 4 games. They are 12-16 on the road and are 11-12 against Western teams.
The Lakers are in 5th place in the West, which isn’t nearly as closely bunched together as the East. They are half a game behind Denver (4) and 2.5 games behind the Clippers (3). They are 2.5 games ahead of Portland (6) and 4 games ahead of Dallas (7). They are 6-4 in their last 10 games and 16-11 at home. They are 14-10 against Eastern teams. They are coming off a win and for the past 9 games, each win has been followed by a loss.
The Celtics will likely be without Evan Fournier once again due to covid. Robert Williams is a late addition to the injury list. He is listed as questionable due to knee soreness. If Timelord can’t play, I expect Tristan Thompson to get the start in his place. The Celtics are 9-2 with Williams starting and he will be missed if he can’t play.
They are catching the Lakers without their two stars. Anthony Davis is out with a calf injury and LeBron James is out with an ankle injury. Jared Dudley is out with a knee injury and Markieff Morris is questionable with an ankle injury. His status will likely be a game time decision. He is likely to start at small forward if he can play. The Lakers also list Drummond (toe), Gasol (hamstring), Kuzma (calf), Schroder (pelvis), and Matthews (Achilles) as probable.
Probable Celtics Starters
Evan Fournier (covid) out
Probable Lakers Starters
Anthony Davis (calf) out
Jared Dudley (knee) out
LeBron James (ankle) out
Markieff Morris (ankle) questionable
Kemba Walker vs Dennis Schroder
Kemba has been up and down this season but had a good game against the Blazers and hopefully can build on that in this game. Schroder averages 15.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. He is shooting 43.2% from the field and 34.1% from beyond the arc. In the first game against the Celtics, he had 12 points and 7 assists. He shot just 37% from the field and 20% from beyond the arc.
Jayson Tatum vs Kyle Kuzma
Kuzma is averaging 12.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. He is shooting 43.2% from the field and 34.7% from beyond the arc. He has had to up his game with both LeBron and Davis out and can be a threat if not defended. In the first game against the Celtics he had 11 points but shot 50% from the field and 42.9% from beyond the arc. Jayson Tatum has been playing very well and the Celtics are hoping he will continue that in this game.
Robert Williams III vs Andre Drummond
Drummond was acquired by the Lakers at the trade deadline and is still learning the Lakers’ system. For the year, he is averaging 16.1 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He is shooting 47.1% from the field and hasn’t made a 3 this season. After averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in his first two games as a Laker, he has scored just 7 points combined in his last 2 games.
Keys to the Game
Defense - I can’t say it enough that defense wins games. The Celtics are 14th in the league with a defensive rating of 111.5. The Lakers 1st with a defensive rating of 105.5. The Celtics have played much better defense over their current win streak and will need that to continue if they hope to keep winning. The Celtics need to make 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 Celtics need to crash the boards and keep the Lakers from getting second chance points and fast breaks. The Celtics are averaging 44.1 rebounds per game while the Lakers are averaging 44.8 rebounds per game. The Celtics must put out extra energy and effort to beat the Lakers to rebounds.
Play Hard for 48 Minutes - The Celtics have been letting up their effort at times during games. 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 who are dangerous, even without their two stars. The Celtics need to be the more aggressive team for all 48 minutes.
Move the Ball Carefully - 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 good at getting points off turnovers. If the Celtics get sloppy and turn the ball over, the Lakers will certainly 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. They have to stay focused and play their game regardless of the distractions. The Lakers are allowing 2000 fans in the building for the first time this season and that should give the Lakers a boost.
Celtic Pride and Revenge- “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. It’s a matter of pride and the Celtics need to get the job done and “Beat LA” in this game. The Lakers won the first game in Boston and so the Celtics need to look to avenge that loss. Also, the Celtics can’t take the Lakers for granted because they are missing key players as they are still a good team and went 4-3 on their Eastern Road trip.
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.