Celtics-Lakers preview: An emotional matchup

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Celtics-Lakers preview: An emotional matchup

LOS ANGELES Regardless of the record, NBA fans have come to expect a good show when the Celtics and Lakers get together. So it was a bit stunning, to say the least, to see how easily Boston handled the Lakers just a couple weeks ago to the tune of 116-95.

And the sad part? The game wasn't even that close.

Fast forward to tonight's game, one in which the Celtics are actually better than they were when these two met while the Lakers are still trying to establish an identity.

But the challenge of sweeping the Lakers, always daunting, is even more difficult now.

For starters, the Celtics are coming off a loss at Denver Tuesday night while the Lakers were home, resting and preparing for tonight's game which will be their first following the all-star break.

And then there's the recent death of Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, the kind of real-life setback that could very well serve as a catalyst in their efforts to rally their way into the playoffs.

"It's a lot of stuff to handle," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "And we're going to be right in the firestorm."

After offering his condolences to the Buss family, C's Kevin Garnett acknowledged that the environment for tonight's game will make an already challenging night even tougher in many ways.

"It should be a lot of emotion in the building," Garnett said. "On top of the most anticipated rival. Nothing more, nothing less than that. Both teams are trying to obviously get on some type of roll, like into a rhythm themselves, period."

How Boston handles all of the off-the-court distractions will indeed play a role in whether the Celtics can brush off Tuesday's loss at Denver and start up another winning streak.

Here are some other factors that may come into play tonight.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Kobe Bryant is going to score a ton of points regardless of what the Celtics do defensively. Limiting the four starters around him from having a big game will be crucial. It certainly was when these two met earlier. Bryant had a game-high 27 points, but he was the only Lakers starter to score in double figures.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs Metta World Peace. This was a matchup that Pierce dominated in their first meeting on Feb. 7. But with the Celtics coming off a game at Denver on Tuesday, there's no telling how much did last night's loss took out of Pierce.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Courtney Lee remains a wild card of sorts for the Celtics. His scoring and defense helped keep the C's in Tuesday's loss to Denver. And his overall game was big in Boston's win over the Lakers earlier this month. He had 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston has to feel better about its chances of winning the rebounding war with Pau Gasol (plantar fascia) sidelined with an injury that's expected to keep him out until sometime in March. The Celtics saw first-hand how well -- or woeful depending on who you root for -- the Lakers are without Gasol. In the first meeting, Gasol was out with the foot injury. It is not a coincidence that Boston out-rebounded the Lakers 48-43.

Kelly Olynyk talks about his shoulder injury; improving his consistency

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Kelly Olynyk talks about his shoulder injury; improving his consistency

Celtics forward/center Kelly Olynyk sits down with Mike Gorman and Brian Scalabrine on Media Day to talk about how the recovery from his shoulder injury is progressing and becoming more consistent this season.

Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely then discuss whether this is a make or break year for Olynyk, who will be a restricted free-agent at the end of the season.

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Horford believes Celtics give him best chance at 'ultimate goal' of NBA Championship

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Horford believes Celtics give him best chance at 'ultimate goal' of NBA Championship

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Pinpointing the exact moment Al Horford made up his mind to become a Boston Celtics isn’t clear, but the seeds of that decision can be traced back to last year’s playoffs – and no we’re not talking about the playoff series between Boston and Atlanta, either.
 
It was the Hawk’s second-round playoff series back in May against Cleveland, a team that swept them out of the Conference finals in 2015 and did so again last about five months ago.
 
Horford had every intention of returning to Atlanta, but as the free agency period wore on two things became quite clear: Winning an NBA title would have to go through Cleveland and it happening with him in Atlanta was becoming more and more unlikely.
 
In came the Celtics with a pitch that was heavy on present-day and down-the-road potential that wouldn’t require him to do anything other than continue to play the way he has for the past nine seasons.
 
“It (becoming a Celtic) became real for me real late and real quick,” Horford told CSNNE.com on Wednesday.
 
After mulling it over for a couple days, Horford said he was ready to become a Celtic.
 
“This could be a great opportunity even though I’m leaving a lot behind,” Horford said.
 
As you listen to Horford speak, it’s clear that the Celtics mystique played a role in his decision to sign with Boston.

 But as much as the Celtics’ lore and its on-the-rise status helped, there were certain events that Boston had no control over that actually helped their cause.
 
First the Hawks got in on a three-team trade in June with Utah and Indiana which sent Hawks All-Star point guard Jeff Teague to the Pacers while Atlanta received Utah’s first-round pick which was 12th overall and was used by Atlanta to select Baylor’s Taurean Prince. The move allowed Atlanta’s Dennis Schroeder to slide over into the now-vacant starting point guard position.
 
While it may help Atlanta down the road, it did little to move them closer towards knocking off Cleveland anytime soon.
 
And then there was the Hawks coming to terms on a three-year, $70.5 million deal with Dwight Howard early in the free agency period. That deal coupled with Atlanta’s desire to bring Kent Bazemore back, cast serious doubt as to whether Horford would return.
 
Horford, who inked a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston, told CSNNE.com that at the time of Atlanta’s deal with Howard, he was still open to the idea of returning.
 
But if Horford did, he knew figuring out the best way to play him, Howard and Paul Millsap who by the way has a player option that he’s likely to exercise which would make him a free agent next summer, was not going to be easy.

“It was definitely going to be different,” Horford said, then adding, “For me, the Celtics were becoming more and more a realistic option. After talking with my family, we felt this was the best for me.”
 
And while it’s still very early in his tenure as a Celtic, Horford has no regrets or second thoughts about his decision.
 
“As a player you always want to be in the best position you can,” Horford said. “I felt for me being on this team would put me in a position to be able to contend and win an NBA championship. That’s my ultimate goal.”
 
And that alone makes him a good fit with this franchise which from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff and of course the players, are all focused on one thing and that’s bringing home Banner 18.
 
 “Look at the resume. He’s been a winner wherever he’s played,” said Boston’s Amir Johnson. “It’s good to have a guy like that, with his talent and with his winning, playing next to you.”