The last time the Lakers and Celtics met this season, Los Angeles got ran off the floor in a 139-107 rout in Boston. It wasn't as if the Lakers were missing guys -- both LeBron James and Anthony Davis played in that game -- but their two superstars had a poor showing, combining for just 24 points against the Celtics. On the other hand, Boston saw tremendous production from a trio of its core, with Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown all scoring 20-plus points. It was the first time in Walker's nine-year career that he's beaten James, and he did it with a wealth of talent around him for the first time since he's been in the league.
That loss to the Celtics was the Lakers' worst of the season. Since then they've gone 8-3, and have a five-game cushion between them and the second place Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference standings. The Celtics, though, have been even better since that huge win in late January, going 11-2 in that span with wins over the Clippers, Heat and 76ers. This is going to be a great matchup between two teams that have consistently been elite all season long. While the Lakers aren't too concerned with standings right now, the Celtics are just 1 1/2 games back behind Toronto for the No. 2 seed in the East, so every win matters with the playoffs just around the corner.
There's a lot to look at for this game, so let's break down what to expect from both sides, and make some predictions.
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Lakers: The only injury question for them is how well Anthony Davis will play after having another injury scare in their previous game. In the first quarter of the Lakers' win over the Grizzlies on Friday, Davis hobbled off the floor with what looked like a lower leg injury. He sat out for a bit, but he returned to the game and ended up finishing with 28 points, 13 rebounds, seven blocks and four assists. He's listed as probable against the Celtics, and while Davis has had his fair share of bumps and bruises throughout the season, he's proven to be quite durable without missing a significant amount of time. He'll likely be good to go, but there could be some lingering soreness for this afternoon matchup.
Other than that, though, the Lakers appear to be business as usual heading into this game. They're reportedly planning to sign Markieff Morris after he secures a buyout with the Detroit Pistons. Having Morris as a backup power forward will certainly help with the Lakers' depth issues when the playoffs come around. It will also allow Kyle Kuzma to play more minutes at small forward, making the Lakers even longer in their bench unit.
The only wrinkle in this is the fact that Morris has not cleared waivers yet. Any team with available cap space can pick up his contract off waivers, meaning he would be unavailable for the Lakers to sign. A team that could potentially pick up the veteran is the Rockets, who have the financial flexibility to sign him, but would need to release a player to make room on the roster. The deadline to claim Morris off the waiver list is 4 p.m., if no one claims him then he will be able to sign with the Lakers, so right now it's just a waiting game.
Celtics: Boston will be without Kemba Walker for the second straight game due to a sore left knee, which is likely why the Lakers are 7.5-point favorites. Still, the Celtics have a lot of firepower behind Walker, with Jayson Tatum coming into form over the course of the season. After earning his first All-Star nod, Tatum's been arguably Boston's best player this season. Among all forwards in the league who operate in the pick-and-roll at least four times a game, Tatum ranks behind only DeMar DeRozan in points per possession (1.03). That's higher than Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Paul George and Jimmy Butler.
Tatum leads the Celtics in scoring this season, with a career high 22.5 points per game, and has been an excellent defender on the other side of the ball. Without Walker against the Lakers, Tatum will certainly take on more of the scoring load with Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward also needing to step up in their point guard's absence. Boston will be outmatched with Los Angeles' size, but it has proven it can beat the Lakers once before this season. Sporting the third-ranked defense in the league, that's enough to keep this game competitive down the wire.
Game prediction, pick
The odds are obviously stacked against the Celtics without Walker, but they've been playing some of their best basketball as of late, and have one of the best defenses in the league. It's hard to pick against LeBron, Davis and the Lakers at home, but Boston has been the better team lately. Even without Kemba, I think they might be able to upset the Lakers. Pick: Celtics + 7.5