Celtics, Lakers fighting through mediocrity

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Celtics, Lakers fighting through mediocrity

WALTHAM It's not unusual for the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers to face each other standing among the elite teams in their respective conferences.

But middle of the pack? That's not normal.

The abnormality has been the reality over the course of this lockout-shortened season, one in which both the Celtics (14-10) and Lakers (14-11) haven't enjoyed the kind of success they've been accustomed to in recent years.

Still, you're talking about two teams with core guys who have been through the many ups and downs that come with an NBA season.

Because of that, no one on either side is in panic mode.

"We're still learning, growing," C's forward Chris Wilcox recently told CSNNE.com. "As we keep playing more with each other, guys keep getting healthier, we'll be OK."

The condensed schedule combined with core guys for both teams being older, has certainly played a role in both teams getting off to less-than-stellar starts.

"We're both not necessarily young," said Lakers star Kobe Bryant. "We both been around the block twice. In this particular season, it's taken us a little longer to get going than some of the other guys."

Even with both teams off to slow starts, that doesn't take away or diminish the rivalry that exists between the two most storied franchises in the NBA history.

"It always is," said Bryant when asked about whether facing the Celtics was a special game. "It's always special when you come to Boston."

Especially for the Lakers who come into tonight's game having won the last three at the TD Garden.

While the Celtics would love nothing more than to send the Lakers on their way with a third straight loss, of greater importance is for the C's to re-establish themselves as a power at home.

Boston is currently 10-6 at home, which is 62.5 percent winning percentage.

In the Big Three era, the C's have only had a lower winning percentage at home once (.585) in the 2009-2010 season, which ended with the Celtics losing to the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

"We want everybody to come to the Garden and have a party," said Boston's Mickael Pietrus. "Right now, we're playing extremely well. We're trying to make a statement, the Garden is our home and we gonna make sure we take care of business at home."

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.