After two tough losses to Eastern Conference powers Orlando and Atlanta, Boston could use an easy win against the league’s dregs.
They’ll have to wait until tomorrow for that, when they play the Washington Wizards.
For now, the NBA-leading Los Angeles Lakers loom.
As the Celtics head into the All-Star break reeling from a bunch of January losses, it would seem that the last thing they need is to face the defending champions. A third three-game losing streak in just over a month would be a big damper for a team that aspires for nothing less than a second NBA championship in the last three years.
But here comes Kobe & co. Here comes the return of perhaps the greatest rivalry in NBA history. Here comes the distinct possibility of another three-game skid.
The Celtics just haven’t been able to come away with wins recently. Whether it’s because of second-half collapses (see: Orlando), a bench that hasn’t performed at nearly its full potential (see: Atlanta), or a combination of injuries, lazy play, and half-hearted unselfishness, Boston has looked like a very different team than the edition that won 14 of 15 games during a stretch earlier in the season.
A meeting with L.A. could be the worst thing for the struggling Celtics, but it could also be just what the doctor ordered. With their backs against the wall, a losing streak under their belts, and a month-long spell of uninspired play not quite behind them, maybe the Celtics need a spark to snap themselves out of the doldrums… a spark that could be provided by a rematch of the 2008 finals.
Boston talks a lot about being a different team than the 2008 champs, and we fans have seen firsthand that they certainly aren’t lying. But maybe a game against the Lakers will remind them of the team they once were, an uber-intense team banded together in camaraderie by their unified goal to win a championship.
If I’m Doc Rivers, I’m dusting off game tape of that Finals series and showing it to my troops. I’m showing them the heart and resolve they displayed to slow down Kobe Bryant. The guts they showed while overcoming a 24-point deficit. The teamwork involved in beating a team that had run rampant through the Western Conference on its way to the Finals. The joy of reaching the NBA’s mountaintop, and the effort and resilience it took to get there.
If the Celtics don’t get back to the basics, back to doing all the little things that once made them champions, the NBA’s mountaintop will be nothing but a distant memory and an unattainable goal.
Their recent string of losses has left the Celtics back at the mountain’s base. Back to square one, with a whole lot of work to go.
Maybe a rivalry game with the Lakers will rejuvenate Boston.
Maybe it can give them the will to once again start climbing.
Three things to look for in tonight’s game:
- Fourth-quarter minutes- The last couple games, Rasheed Wallace has been the Celtics’ crunch-time center. Kendrick Perkins, who normally plays those minutes, has sat on the bench watching while Rasheed helped the C’s lose two straight. Doc should see what everyone else has seen for awhile; Rasheed can help, but Perk is Boston’s best option to team with Kevin Garnett.
- Point guard battle- Point guard is the one position where the Celtics should have a distinct advantage. Derek Fisher is a shell of the player he used to be, and no longer possesses anywhere near the quickness to stay in front of Rajon Rondo. The Lakers will undoubtedly send a lot of help defense Rondo’s way, but Rondo should make them pay for his mismatch. He should be in attack-mode from the opening tip.
- The bench – Boston’s subs have been pretty damn bad as of late. They’ve gotten outplayed almost every night. But as bad as the C’s bench has been, the Lakers’ is just as bad. If either team gets a surprisingly good performance off the bench, it could spell trouble for the opposing squad.