Julian Benbow, Boston Globe – “It’s the potholes along the way that jolt the Celtics’ system. One night, they fall, 88-71, to Phoenix in an admitted ‘stinker’’ by coach Doc Rivers’s standards, and appear to be a fatigued, combustible team that stopped playing defense once their shots stopped falling. Then, with a day’s rest and seven months’ worth of pent-up NBA Finals frustration, they make the defending champion Lakers look like a struggling one-man operation, playing some of their most smothering defense of the season. ‘I think the biggest thing with us is challenging ourselves every day, with every opponent,’ Rondo said. ‘We’re always up for these types of games — the Lakers, the Heat, the teams supposed to be the teams to beat in the league. It’s just the teams that are under .500 that we’re struggling with right now. I think it’s a lack of focus. We’ve got to come mentally prepared better.’ … ‘We know that moving forward we can’t have any hiccups,’ said Ray Allen. ‘We’ve got to take care of business against everybody. We want to beat everybody. I don’t look any differently at anybody. I know that we are more focused in those games, but as the season progresses, we have to beat everybody.’”
Tony Massarotti, Boston Globe – “The truth, unfortunately, is that Sunday’s 109-96 Celtics victory had a great deal to do with the Lakers than it did with the Celtics, a story we should know all too well here. Since starting the season 13-2, the Lakers are a mere 20-13. Los Angeles has lost two straight and 4 of 7. The Lakers are now the team that appears to have a rather sizable hangover, the way the Celtics did last year, when Boston went 27-27 over its final 54 games and seemed entirely disinterested in the regular season. Then the playoffs came and the Celtics turned it up a notch, coming within a whisker of the NBA title during a season in which many of us had written them off. Really, are there people foolish enough to write off these Lakers, who seem so unwilling to play defense that the Celtics shot 60.3 percent from the field Sunday and an even more absurd 67.6 percent in the second half? Team Staal played more defense in the NHL All-Star Game than the Lakers did Sunday. So did the AFC in the Pro Bowl.”
Steve Bulpett, Boston Herald – “‘Well, we learned our lesson last year,’ said Paul Pierce. ‘I think, as a group, we looked ahead a lot. I thought that was the reason for our (50-32) record. Then when the playoffs came, we turned it on, but unfortunately we didn’t have Game 7 (of the Finals against the Lakers) in Boston. If we had homecourt last year, who knows what happens in Game 7? So we’re definitely not looking ahead this year, because it can come down to another Game 7, and hopefully we can have it on our home court.’”
Gerry Callahan, Boston Herald – “Maybe they are going too hard in the regular season, expending too energy and spilling too much blood. Maybe they will run out of gas and come up short of a championship, but you get the sense that they won’t apologize. This is what they do. This is how they play. Tonight they take on the Kings, second-worst team in the West. You can tell Garnett to ease up, but good luck with that. You’ve got a better chance of getting the pit bull to give up the pork chop or Kobe to give up the ball.”
A. Sherrod Blakely, CSNNE – “Boston has 11 losses, five of which have come against teams with a losing record. It isn’t so much that those teams play significantly better against the Celtics. Instead, it has more to do with the C’s simply not playing with the same level of commitment and focus at both ends of the floor that they display when playing the top teams in the NBA. ‘We don’t want to have a letdown,’ said point guard Rajon Rondo. But it’s difficult to avoid, especially when it comes at the end of a long road trip. Tuesday’s game will be Boston’s fourth matchup in seven days. That, combined with Sunday’s 109-96 victory over the two-time NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, makes the Celtics a ripe candidate for a letdown performance against the Kings.”
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston – “The San Antonio Spurs have far and away the best record in basketball, but don’t be deceived. The Boston Celtics are far and away the best team in basketball as the calendar flips to February. After Boston’s 109-96 thumping of the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday at the Staples Center, there can be no argument. The Celtics wrapped up the month of January with a glossy 5-1 record against teams with records better than .500, including a 105-103 triumph over those very Spurs (which, if not for some careless final moments, wouldn’t have been as close as the final score suggests). … But, heck, before the Celtics even beat his team three weeks ago in a battle of conference juggernauts, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich admitted his team was a cut below Boston. ‘We’re a significant notch below the big boys, and, of course, Boston being one of the big boys,’ Popovich said. ‘Boston [was] third in defensive field goal percentage. Those are the kind of stats we used to have defensively. Right now, I think we’re a good basketball team. We have to step up defensively. Luckily, it’s early. Maybe I can get these things across.’”
Broderick Turner, LA Times – “Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Monday that he’s not happy with how the team has played, and he has pondered making a trade to shake things up. The two-time defending champions lost Sunday to the hated Boston Celtics and Friday night to the lowly Sacramento Kings, with both losses at home, leaving Kupchak in a state of uneasiness about his team. ‘Yes . . . I may have to look into a trade, but I’m not saying we have’ talked to other teams yet, Kupchak said. ‘We have not been playing up to our level and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s complacency. I’m not sure.’”
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