LOS ANGELES With both the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers having so-so seasons, this rivalry doesn't quite have the same sizzle as past years.
Before, it was often seen as a potential NBA Finals preview. Today? Neither team has played well enough to even have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, let alone be included among the truly elite title contenders.
So for a change, today's game will be more about basketball than build-up.
And because of both teams' far-from-the-mountaintop status, each has been rumored to be looking to make a trade by the 3 p.m. (EST) deadline on Thursday.
In fact, today's game features the two most talked about players on the trade rumor mill: Boston's Rajon Rondo and the Lakers' Pau Gasol.
"It's part of it," Rondo said of the trade rumors. "I don't think no one is safe until the actual trade deadline is over. We're very focused on what we have in our locker room. We believe in each other."
That faith will once again be put to the test as the C's begin their eight-game road trek today against a Lakers team that, like the C's, is trying to stockpile as many wins as possible in hopes of improving their playoff position.
Here's a peek at a few factors that will likely come into play today.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Both teams have had their problems scoring, and today's game should not be any different. The Lakers come into the game ranked 19th in scoring, at 94.2 per game. Meanwhile, the Celtics are bottom-five in the NBA with a 90.8 points per game scoring average that ranks No. 26. With both teams also ranked among the top six in scoring defense, look for a repeat of their Feb. 9 game at the Garden which ended with a low scoring affair that was eventually won by the Lakers, 88-87.
MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Brandon Bass vs. Pau Gasol: Gasol's length and craftiness around the basket should make this a favorable matchup for the Lakers, but Bass has continually proven to play bigger than his undersized, 6-foot-8 frame. As much as the Celtics will need him to provide rebounding and solid play defensively, they will also need him to do what he does best and that's score. In their first matchup on Feb. 9, Bass had eight points. He came into that game having reached double figures scoring in 10 of the previous 11 games. And when you consider it was a one-point loss for the C's, that one more made basket is huge.
PLAYER TO WATCH -- With Chris Wilcox out for additional tests on his heart, rookie Greg Stiemsma is expected to play some tonight against Lakers all-star center Andrew Bynum. The 7-foot rookie played a career-high 27 minutes in Boston's blowout win against Portland on Friday. He has struggled at times, often relying too much on his shot-blocking prowess and not enough on playing good positional defense. But he's a rookie who is still learning. And looking at the C's other big man options right now (Wilcox is out, as well as Jermaine O'Neal with a wrist injury), he's the best (and only big man option) they have right now coming off the bench.
STAT TO TRACK -- Rebound, rebound, rebound. The Celtics hear it all the time, and yet seldom do a good job at it. They'll have to today if they are to give themselves a legit shot at winning tonight. The Lakers come in averaging 54.6 rebounds per game which ranks No. 2 in the NBA. Even more impressive is that their average rebounding margin is plus-5 per game. In their Feb. 9 game, the Lakers were plus-10 on the boards which contributed to them having a 24-13 advantage on second-chance points.