BOSTON – Times have definitely changed in the NBA, one where tradition doesn’t seem to hold the same weight as it used to.
Think about it.
The Boston Celtics are hosting the Los Angeles Lakers tonight, a longtime rivalry that historically has brought out decades of bad blood between two of the winningest franchises in the NBA.
And yet Celtics Nation is likely to get more excited about seeing the Toronto Raptors, the Washington Wizards or even that other team from L.A., the Clippers, at the TD Garden.
Much of the indifference that exists now has to do with two franchises that are for now at least, headed in dramatically different directions.
Boston (31-18) comes in with a five-game winning streak. If they beat the Lakers (17-35) tonight, Brad Stevens and his coaching staff will be coaching the East All-Stars on Feb. 19.
Meanwhile, the Lakers -- losers in 9 of their last 11 games -- have a roster full of young talent that’s still learning the ins and outs of the NBA, taking their share of lumps along the journey.
Motivation for Boston will have nothing to do with the Celtics-Lakers rivalry.
“We know about the history and all that, but we just have to keep winning games,” Amir Johnson told CSNNE.com. “It really doesn’t matter who we play. We have to just keep winning, keep getting better and closer to that number one spot.”
And then there’s the Lakers, who are gunning for the No. 1 pick in June’s draft. Including games played on Thursday, the Lakers have the third-worst record in the NBA this season.
Tonight’s game doesn’t have the same sizzle as past years when Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant always gave the game what it needed -- proven superstars.
That said, here are three things both franchises and their fan bases should be excited about tonight.
He’ll be off to his second straight All-Star game later this month, having put together a monster season thus far. He’s averaging 29.7 points per game which is second in the NBA. And his 10.7 points in the fourth quarter is tops among all NBA players and if it stands, would be the highest fourth-quarter average we’ve seen in more than 20 years. He’s the most interesting (and damn near unstoppable) force in the NBA right now.
Tonight’s game will feature two of the top-three picks in last year’s NBA draft in Laker’s wing Brandon Ingram and Boston’s Jaylen Brown who were selected with the No. 2 and 3 picks, respectively. Both have undergone their share of growing pains, having shuffled in and out of their respective team’s lineups. But the biggest difference is that Ingram is logging major minutes on a bad team, while Brown is carving out playing time -- not nearly as bountiful as Ingram but quality nonetheless -- on a team that’s positioning itself to be one of the top three seeds in the East.
Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton is doing his best to establish a positive culture that’s more about being competitive than necessarily winning games. Having come from Golden State a year ago, he knows all too well that the Lakers have a lot of work to do before they can be a playoff team again, let alone one competing for a championship. Brad Stevens was in a similar spot back in 2013, but has put the Celtics on a faster-than-expected track of success. He has Boston poised to make a third straight trip to the playoffs, and most likely home court advantage for the first time under his leadership. No one would be surprised if Walton leads the Lakers on a similar trajectory.