By A.Sherrod Blakely
WALTHAM We have seen this before.
The Boston Celtics suffer a disappointing loss to a team that they know they should have beat.
Sunday's 94-89 loss at Charlotte qualifies.
Next game out, the C's are expected to have some off-the-hook focus because the next opponent, well, is a better team.
Yes, the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers fit that description.
"We could have won (at Charlotte) and still had the antenna up," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "It's the Lakers. It's a good game to play because it's them."
It's also a good game because once again, both Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers are among the handful of teams in the hunt for an NBA title this season.
The two teams met on Jan. 30 in Los Angeles, and the Celtics pulled away for a 109-96 win. A Boston victory on Thursday would give them the season sweep for the first time since the 2007-2008 season - the year the C's hung Banner 17.
Regardless of their status among the NBA's elite, Boston versus LA is always going to be a highly-anticipated game.
Players for both teams are well aware of the extensive history that exists between these two franchises, a history that has been updated with some of the greatest games in their storied rivalry coming about in recent years.
"It's been intense since we met in the (NBA) Finals in 2008," said Lakers forward Pau Gasol. "It's been that way and it will continue to be that way for a while."
Of all the players on the floor Thursday night, few understand just how intense the rivalry is between these two more than Kobe Bryant.
"Our situation, our rivalry has become more real than others because of facing them in the (NBA) Finals twice, and the history that's involved," Bryant said. "It holds a little more substance than the rivalry we have with the (San Antonio) Spurs, for example."
And as much as the fans for both teams look forward to seeing the two square off, the anticipation is just as great for the players.
"Who doesn't look forward to that game?" said Boston's Glen Davis. "It's a great game where guys are going to be competing, try and rip each other's heads off. I'm all in. I'm looking forward to it."