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.