BOSTON No matter if you're a Celtics fan or a die-hard lover of the Los Angeles Lakers, both teams have players who were seldom-used that are now benefiting from injuries and opportunities of late to play.
Few stick out more than Celtics guard Leandro Barbosa whose play in the fourth quarter on Wednesday was arguably the difference in the C's pulling out a 99-95 win at Toronto.
Barbosa had 14 points, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter on an array of drives to the basket and jumpers.
It is that ability to provide instant offense that makes Barbosa such an invaluable member of this squad, which will have an offensive lull or two every night.
"Barbosa is just a player," said Paul Pierce. "You can throw him out there pretty much with anybody. He knows how to score the ball, he knows how to play the game. He's so quick when he gets the ball in transition. He's so crafty . . . he can do so many things."
Which is why the Celtics felt they were getting a steal in landing him for the veteran's minimum.
And that's why Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, put to bed quickly the rumors floating about that Barbosa wanted to be released from his contract with the Celtics which later turned out to be something both Barbosa and Ainge denied.
"We love Leandro and what he brings to this team, obviously," Ainge told CSNNE.com. "But he knew that the opportunities he has had in the past, probably wouldn't be as plentiful here based on the players we have. You look at our roster, and we're really deep at his position. Having said that, he is still an important part of what we're doing here."
Especially now with Rajon Rondo (torn right ACL) out for the season.
"I just want to help the team win," Barbosa told CSNNE.com recently. "And when I get a chance to play, I want to play well. Scoring, passing, whatever it is Doc (Rivers) needs me to do, that's what I want to do. I just want to win, that's all."
He will get more opportunities to do just that in tonight's game against the Lakers who have knocked off the Celtics in each of their last three meetings.
Here are some key factors to pay attention to as the C's try to match their season-best winning streak of six against their cross-coastal rival.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With significant injuries hampering both the Celtics and the Lakers, veteran stars on both teams have stepped up their games, especially on the boards. Paul Pierce is averaging 10 rebounds per game in the last five without Rajon Rondo, while Kobe Bryant is averaging 7.5 rebounds per game in the Lakers' last six while both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol have been hurting or out. Both Pierce and Bryant average just over 5 rebounds per game for their careers.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Earl Clark. Bass has become a more reliable rebounder as well as facilitator. Yes, "No Pass" Bass does in fact pass the rock every now and then. As for Clark, he has done a solid job as a starter for the Lakers. It will be interesting to see how he handles continuing to play well while trying to provide some of the production that the Lakers will surely lose with Pau Gasol out for at least a month with a foot injury.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jason Terry was one of the few Celtics players that didn't put up impressive numbers at Toronto on Wednesday. The C's will need a lift from someone not named Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce tonight. This would be a good night for the Jet to take off and have a big game.
STAT TO TRACK: The three-point shot has been a part of both Boston's and the Los Angeles Lakers' success of late, but in a different way. In the last five games, Boston has limited opponents to 5.2 threes made per game, the fifth-best mark in the league during that span. In that same period of time, the Lakers have connected on 8.2 threes per game, which ranks fifth in the league.