Celtics - Lakers preview: Tough times for both teams

Celtics - Lakers preview: Tough times for both teams
January 17, 2014, 12:15 pm
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BOSTON — When the Los Angeles Lakers come to town, it's usually a big deal.

This season?

Not so much.

Both of these iconic franchises have struggled all season, each trying to navigate through injuries, inconsistent play and for the most part, a roster that's inferior to most of their foes.

Still, that doesn't diminish the fact that this game has value for both teams.

For the injury-riddled Lakers, this is the first of six road games against Eastern Conference teams.

And for struggling teams from the Western Conference, the elixir of choice that soothes the pain of defeat, is to face teams in the East.

"It would be nice to start (winning) on the road," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters recently. "Then by the time the road trip's over, you start getting guys back and that'll help."

The Celtics are banking on that theory proving true with four time All-Star Rajon Rondo set to make his regular season debut tonight after suffering a torn right ACL injury on Jan. 25. The Celtics had lost a season-high nine in a row prior to knocking off Atlantic Division-leading Toronto 88-83 on Wednesday.

It would come as no surprise if Rondo struggled in the limited minutes he will be on the floor tonight.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Rondo will play 18-20 minutes, with no definitive game plan as to how or when those minutes will be increased.

While all agree it'll take Rondo some time to shake off the rust from what would be nearly a year since he played in a game, Danny Ainge anticipates Rondo getting back to the level he's accustomed to playing sooner rather than later.

"I anticipate him coming back faster than any of us think," said Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations. "If anything, the guy is a great competitor. He has a lot of pride. He's not going to admit to being tired and hurt and mentally challenged, getting back through this. He'll fight through the adversity."

Here are some other keys in tonight's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:  The Celtics have no reason to be overconfident against any team. But considering the Lakers record (14-26), no Kobe Bryant, no Steve Nash ... even their B-list talent like Xavier Henry and Steve Blake, are out with injuries. It all adds up to the Celtics potentially doing what we haven't seen them do all season - take an opponent for granted.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo vs Kendall Marshall

Rondo's first game back isn't against one of the elite point guards in the NBA. But in what has been a season full of disappointment for the Lakers, the play of Marshall has been one of the bright spots. In the six games he has started, he has put up Rondo-like numbers in averaging 13 points, 12 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jeff Green once again has a matchup that seems extremely favorable for him. Although his numbers might not suggest it, but Green has been more aggressive lately in trying to get to the basket. He just hasn't made shots or gotten calls to go his way. Tonight he has a matchup that should allow him an opportunity to be more successful off the drive and into the lane.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston got off their nine-game skid against Toronto on Wednesday in large part because of their rebounding success. I know.

Rebounding success and the Boston Celtics rarely go hand-in-hand.

But the decisive 58-44 edge Boston had on the boards against the Raptors, has actually been fairly consistent with their rebounding this month.

The Celtics are the NBA's ninth-best rebounding team in January, averaging 46.3 per game. The Lakers come in with the 12th-worst rebounding team this month with a 43.1 rebounds per game average.