8:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Lakers -2, Over/Under: 218.5
The two most successful franchises in the history of the National Basketball Association (combining for a staggering 34 championships) renew acquaintances as the reigning Champions, Los Angeles Lakers, continue their road trip east to battle the Boston Celtics from TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. It’s been a quicker turnaround for the Lakers (14-6, 3rd in Western Conference) than most, who must feel like they hoisted their franchise’s NBA record-tying seventeenth Larry O’Brien trophy a week ago; after wrapping up their triumph over the Miami Heat on October 11th, Los Angeles had just eighty-two days before this current campaign got underway. With that said, (General Manager) Rob Pelinka and (Head Coach) Frank Vogel certainly made the most of the time afforded to them in the Offseason, parting ways with the likes of (Centers) Dwight Howard and JaVale MaGee along with (veteran Guards) Rajon Rondo and Danny Green, and replacing them with the likes of (Power Forward) Montrezl Harrell (12.8 PTS, 61.3% FG, 6.6 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.6 BLK, 20.7 PER), (Point Guard) Dennis Schroder (13.6 PTS, 41.5% FG, 30.3% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 4.2 AST, 1.0 STL, 11.5 PER), and (veteran Center) Marc Gasol (4.0 PTS, 41.3% FG, 36.4% 3FG, 4.6 REB, 2.1 AST, 1.3 BLK, 10.3 PER). Oh, they also managed to resign four-time MVP, LeBron James (25.5 PTS, 49.6% FG, 41.7% 3FG, 7.8 REB, 7.5 AST, 0.9 STL, 24.9 PER) and All-NBA Forward, Anthony Davis (21.9 PTS, 52.2% FG, 32.6% 3FG, 8.8 REB, 3.3 AST, 1.3 STL, 1.9 BLK, 25.1 PER) to long-term deals, with the former putting pen to paper on a lucrative two-year/$85.6 million extension that should see him end his illustrious career in the City of Angels, while the latter inked a mammoth five-year/$189.9 max deal. Twenty games into the 2020-2021 season, the Lakers remain one of the favorites to come out of the West, thanks in large part to their new faces, particularly Harrell and Schroder, who have brought some serious youth and energy to what was a very veteran rotation. Given the quick turnaround from last season, Vogel is understandably looking to give James and Davis every opportunity to rest, particularly during the early stages of the campaign, evidenced by the former logging a career-low 33.1 minutes per game and the latter oftentimes sitting out the second leg of back-to-backs altogether. Of course, this luxury has been made possible by that aforementioned influx of youth; both Harrell and Schroder can create their own Offense, which is a breath of fresh air for a side that so often relied upon the exploits of their superstars on the offensive end. That’s clearly changed this year, with Los Angeles ranking third overall in field goal percentage (48.0%) and fifth overall in three-point percentage (38.8%), which is a major leap from the previous season (34.9%). Hell, even James is feeling the magic from beyond the arc, knocking down a career-best 41.7% of his attempts. Fortunately, even through these changes they’ve remained one of the elite defensive teams in the league, allowing just 104.8 points (2nd Overall) on 44.9% shooting from the field (7th Overall), including 34.3% from downtown (3rd Overall) and 50.9% from within the arc (8th Overall), along with a free-throw/field goal attempt ratio of just .153 (2nd Overall) and a NBA-best defensive rebounding percentage of 80.6% (1st Overall). This prowess on the defensive end of the hardwood was a major reason for their franchise-high ten-game winning streak on the road to begin the campaign, but as we all know, everything must come to an end, which is something that this latest iteration of Showtime came to understand earlier this week.
“I don’t know if we ran out of gas. We just didn’t have a great rhythm that second half in any way.”Frank Vogel on his team’s performance late in Thursday’s 107-92 loss at the Pistons
When we last saw the Lakers, they’re perfect run away from STAPLES Center came to an abrupt end with back-to-back losses to the Philadelphia 76ers (107-106) and Detroit Pistons (107-92) on successive nights. Wednesday night’s trip to Philadelphia saw the visitors struggle to keep pace with the hosts, though a late 11-0 run in the final stanza would propel them into a 106-105 lead with less than ten seconds to play, as the aforementioned Davis shook his defender for an easy lay-in. However, the Sixers’ Tobias Harris would receive the inbound and drill the game-winner over Alex Caruso (5.7 PTS, 45.6% FG, 54.3% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 2.2 AST, 1.0 STL, 13.1 PER) moments later. As disappointing as that late defensive breakdown was, there would be little time to dwell on matters as Los Angeles immediately hit the road for the Motor City, where they would go to war without Davis, whom was being rested due to soreness in his right quadriceps. In this particular matchup the Lakers were sluggish throughout and clearly missed the presence of the four-time All-NBA selection, mustering a season-low ninety-two points on just 40.9% shooting from the field, eventually running out of gas in the Fourth Quarter where they were outscored 25-14. Simply put, this was a BAD loss for a defending champion against what was a four-win team, even if a player of Davis’ caliber was out of action. After all, there was still James, who totaled twenty-two points, seven rebounds, and ten assists, but shot 8-of-19 from the floor (42.1%), though he could only manage a paltry two points after Halftime on 1-of-12 shooting (8.3%). Who would step up and fill the void left by Davis was the big issue though; (Forward) Kyle Kuzma (10.1 PTS, 43.4% FG, 37.9% 3FG, 5.8 REB, 1.0 AST, 11.3 PER) matched his teammate’s point total (22) while grabbing ten rebounds, but Schroder could muster just ten points on a dismal 2-of-8 shooting (25.0%), while Harrell ended with only eight points, and Gasol was scoreless altogether. Defensively, the champs weren’t particularly effective either, allowing Detroit to shoot 46.0% from the field, including 14-of-36 from beyond the arc (38.9%), with twenty-seven assists in comparison to just eight turnovers. And it’s with all that said that the Lakers find themselves embroiled in their first losing streak since dropping three consecutive outings last season in the Bubble before the Playoffs kicked off, and as a result have now fallen from their perch atop the Western Conference; with the Jazz in torrid form and the Clippers rounding into shape, both teams have vaulted past them in the standings.
Meanwhile, as the East continues to evolve following the exploits of the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics (10-7, 4th in Eastern Conference) are simply trying to round back into form as they return to full strength. Boston didn’t have much time to enjoy the Offseason either, falling to the Miami Heat in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, granting them just ninety-seven days before the 2020-2021 season kicked things off on December 23rd. During that period of time, they said goodbye to (veteran swingman) Gordon Hayward, who signed with the Charlotte Hornets in Free Agency, while (All-Star Point Guard) Kemba Walker (16.4 PTS, 42.3% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 2.6 REB, 4.2 AST, 2.0 STL, 19.5 PER) was held out of all team activities following Offseason knee surgery. (Center) Tristan Thompson (6.2 PTS, 45.2% FG, 8.6 REB, 0.6 BLK, 11.4 PER) would arrive in Free Agency to provide some sorely-needed size and depth in the Frontcourt, while (veteran Point Guard) Jeff Teague (5.9 PTS, 31.9% FG, 41.7% 3FG, 2.0 REB, 2.3 AST, 1.1 STL, 9.6 PER) was also added to provide cover for Walker. Apart from that, the responsibility fell on (Head Coach) Brad Stevens to do what he does best: develop the young talent on hand. Few teams have been better than the Celtics in terms of drafting and developing players, with the likes of Jayson Tatum (26.5 PTS, 47.1% FG, 42.7% 3FG, 6.8 REB, 3.8 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.8 BLK, 22.5 PER) and Jaylen Brown (27.1 PTS, 52.2% FG, 44.1% 3FG, 5.6 REB, 3.5 AST, 1.5 STL, 0.6 BLK, 25.8 PER) serving as proof of their efforts. Two of the brightest young stars under the age of twenty-five that you’ll find in the Association, Tatum and Brown have come a long way in a relatively short period of time; (General Manager) Danny Ainge drafted them each Third Overall in successive Drafts (2016 and 2017), and during the time that has passed have thus developed into bonafide stars, combining for 53.6 points per game along with 12.4 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 2.7 steals. It’s really been remarkable to watch their growth, as they have made the club’s previous splashes in Free Agency (I.E. Kyrie Irving and the aforementioned Hayward) expendable, with even a four-time All-Star such as Walker taking a backseat to his younger teammates, particularly as he works his way back from injury. Brown in particular has been on FIRE throughout the first month of the campaign, with the 24-year old looking like a lock for his first All-Star selection, logging career-highs in a slew of categories including points (27.1), field goal percentage (52.2%), three-point percentage (44.1%), two-point percentage (55.8%), free-throw percentage (77.4%), assists (3.5), and steals (1.5). Over the last four games the hoop must appear to be as wide as the ocean for this kid, who has netted a ridiculous 53.4% of his attempts from the field, including an insane 61.9% from downtown en route to scoring 31.3 points per game over that stretch. With that said, Boston is just 2-2 during this period, and have won just two of their last six outings due in large part to their struggles on the defensive end of the floor, which were exploited mercilessly in their latest adventure…
“It’s been an interesting season. We’ve had guys out, guys hurt. We are just trying to put everything together. Tonight wasn’t our best night.”Jaylen Brown on the Celtics performance in Wednesday’s 110-106 loss at the Spurs
When we last saw the Celtics, their two-game winning streak was ended abruptly as they traveled to San Antonio where the Spurs dealt them a tough 110-106 defeat. For the first time this season Stevens got to see what his projected Starting Lineup consisting of the aforementioned Tatum, Brown, and Walker along with (veteran Guard) Marcus Smart (13.6 PTS, 39.8% FG, 32.2% 3FG, 2.8 REB, 6.0 AST, 1.8 STL, 15.0 PER) and (Center) Daniel Theis (9.4 PTS, 63.5% FG, 35.5% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.9 BLK, 17.4 PER) would look like, and for the most part it went as expected; the quintet put forth a balanced performance with Tatum and Brown posting twenty-five and twenty-four points respectively, while Smart and Walker added fourteen points apiece, though Theis managed a scant five points and a rebound along with four fouls in just twelve minutes of play. As a team, Boston struggled when in possession on a disappointing 42.9% shooting from the field, including 10-of-30 from beyond the arc (33.3%), but managed to stay in the affair on the strength of twenty forced turnovers which they parlayed into twenty-two points, along with thirteen offensive rebounds affording them a wealth of second-chance opportunities. On the night, Stevens’ troops attempted sixteen more field goals than their opponent. Unfortunately, apart from the turnovers they really couldn’t slow the Spurs down much at all, who shot a blistering 56.1% from the floor, despite floundering from downtown (8-of-28 3FG), with six different players scoring in double-figures. With all that said, this one did go down to the wire, folks; the Celtics tied the game via Theis’ dunk with forty seconds left to play, but San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan sank a short jumper on the ensuing possession to retake the lead, before a Boston turnover turned into a runaway dunk for the home side, who wouldn’t relinquish their advantage. Wednesday’s affair was just their second against a side from the Western Conference, and now they’ll host the reigning champions in a renewal of the most celebrated rivalry in NBA history. These teams have met each other in the NBA Finals on a whopping twelve occasions, with Los Angeles winning their latest encounter eleven years ago. They split their two meetings during the Regular Season in 2019-2020, with Boston hammering them 139-107 at TD Garden on January 20th, in which Tatum led the way with twenty-seven points as Brown and Walker added twenty apiece.