Blakely's Celtics-Lakers preview


Blakely's Celtics-Lakers preview

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.

Haggerty: Subban looking more like a 1st-round bust than NHL goalie

Haggerty: Subban looking more like a 1st-round bust than NHL goalie

BOSTON, Mass – Malcolm Subban says that he believes that he can still be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.

While that’s admirable on some level for the sheer, brazen self-confidence involved in saying this after getting yanked from a 5-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild at TD Garden, pretty much all of the evidence points out the contrary. Nearly two years after getting pulled from his NHL debut in against the St. Louis Blues after giving up three goals on six shots, Subban was pulled from Tuesday night’s appearance after giving up three goals on eight second period shots with the Bruins desperately in need of a quality start in goal.

He maintained a defiantly confident tone after another humbling NHL effort against Minnesota, and that’s a testament to the maturity and mental toughness of the person behind the goalie mask.

“It sucks. Obviously, I’m just trying to finish the game, let alone win one. Obviously it sucks, but what can you do now, right?” said Subban, who has now allowed six goals on 22 career shots faced in two starts. “Obviously I want to be a number one goaltender in the league. I was a high pick for a reason. I have the potential, and I just have to show it. Obviously I haven’t done that so far yet, but I think I’m getting closer to it. Honestly, I think I can do it right now. I just got to show it. Obviously, I didn’t [do it] today, but tomorrow’s a new day.”

Given the stunningly bad quality of his two NHL starts combined with a thoroughly pedestrian body of work at the AHL level over the last three years, there is literally zero tangible evidence Subban is tracking to be a franchise goaltender. Instead he’s the emergency goaltender called on by the Bruins only after Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin have both been shelved by injuries, and he’s now flunked the two pop quizzes when the NHL team needed him to come through.

Meanwhile, a sizeable selection of goaltenders taken after him in the 2012 NHL Draft class have already proven their NHL worth and broken through at the elite level: Matt Murray, Frederik Anderson, Connor Hellebuyck and Joonas Korpisalo.

Subban was hoping all along to break through this season in Boston, but things went south on him quickly with a Bruins team not playing well in front of him. The first goal was a fluttering Charlie Coyle shot that trickled between his glove hand and the top of his leg pad. The third goal was a softie low and to the glove side, power play strike authored by Ryan Suter. It added up to poor goaltending and shoddy defense, but it also added up to a Bruins goaltender that didn’t even give his hockey club a chance to win.

“It could be a combination of both. There are some goals – I’m not going to lie – there are some goals that we thought our goaltenders should have had. But I’m not here to talk about a goaltender who’s in one of his first few games because he let in a couple of bad goals,” said Julien. “We were terrible in front of him and we weren’t any better, and that’s the big picture. That’s more important.

“I don’t care who’s in net. I think when you have some injuries you need to be better in those situations and we weren’t good enough tonight. It doesn’t matter if Tuukka [Rask] is in net and we had injuries up front, or we’re lacking players here or there. You’ve got to let the system take care of the game. If you play it the right way, you have a chance to win. When you don’t, you don’t. That’s what happened [against Minnesota].”

There’s no question the defense in front of Subban wasn’t nearly good enough, and Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug in particular struggled to lock things down in the defensive zone. The wide open shots from the slot - like the Chris Stewart score in the second period that arrived 12 seconds after Minnesota’s opening goal - are indicative of a hockey club that’s not sticking to the game plan once things start to get a little wonky.

But this is about a player in Subban that should be entering the NHL stage of his career after being a first round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, and anybody would be hard-pressed to see him as an NHL goalie after failing in each of his first two NHL starts. Combine that with the lack of dominance at the AHL level over the last three years, and there’s a better chance that Subban will be a major first round bust for the Bruins rather than suddenly develop into a late-blooming No. 1 goaltender in Boston.

The scary part is that Subban and fellow young netminder Zane McIntyre are all the Bruins have for Wednesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden, and perhaps longer than that if Rask can’t make rapid progress with his lower body injury.

Maybe Subban can be a bit better than he’s shown thus far, and the four goals allowed to Minnesota were not all his fault. The bottom line, however, is that Subban should be up for doing this job right now. Tuesday was a big chance for the young goalie to make a statement that he was ready for it.

Instead he looked like the same goalie that’s been pulled from two of his first four AHL starts this season, and plays like a goaltender that’s never going to truly be ready for the call in Boston.