Celtics-Lakers: 5 Things to Watch

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With the Lakers and Celtics renewing their epic rivalry this afternoon, it’s time to look ahead at what we’re witnessing when the two face-off at Staples Arena at 3:30 p.m. EST. It’s the NBA’s oldest, best, and most celebrated rivalry and despite the turning point both teams are facing in their history. Here are five things to watch today when the Lakers host the Celtics.

1. End of an Era: This is the end of Lakers-Celtics 2000’s. A rivalry reborn in 2008 when they met in the Finals, a series famous for a dramatic Lakers collapse, Paul Pierce’s wheelchair episode which Lakers fans hold onto like a pitbull with flank steak, and the celebration of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen in their first championship. The rivalry took a year off, most believe due to a Kevin Garnett knee injury which ended his season in April. And then of course the 2010 re-match, a Lakers victory famous for Kendrick Perkins’ knee injury which gave the Celtics their out card, Ron Artest’s biggest play as a Laker, and a big revenge game for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. But it’s a near-lock these teams will not look the same next year.

Even if the Lakers keep their core, the Celtics are very unlikely to keep both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. There will be changes. The rivalry will sustain, but you should enjoy this last meeting between two behemoths that have defined the NBA over the past five seasons.

2. Mentally Unstable: Both teams are suffering from the strain of the trade deadline. The Lakers are constantly under a haze of rumors. The Celtics’ management has been proactive in getting the word out that their players are not actively being shopped. True or not, it changes how they’re behaving. They’re smart enough to know they could still be traded, but it makes them feel a little better. The Lakers meanwhile are having team meeting after team meeting to try and move past that pressure. Its’ not a good situation.

3. Bad Blood Is Fun: Paul Pierce and Metta World Peace know each other. They know most everything about each other. And yet they will have the same battle they’ve had for years. Artest will battle and body him. Pierce will draw fouls and create space. This game could hinge on which Pierce shows up. If it’s the tired, worn-out Pierce that can’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, it could get bad. If it’s the Pierce that loves beating the Lakers and has been showing up over the past month, this game is going to be tight, exciting and primed for a dose of the Truth.

4. Being Taller Is Better: Kevin Garnett plays center at times. Chris Wilcox has been out, Brandon Bass is a stretch four in the purest sense. Stiemsma is not a good matchup. The Lakers have the tallest and arguably best frontcourt in the league. The Celtics are going to have to swarm them immediately in the post and hope to create a bad night for them.

5. Which Masked Mamba?: Kobe Bryant is everything for everyone this season. Scoring 40 points, averaging 30-ish. Shooting a ton. Getting Bynum involved at times. Ignoring him at others. Hitting incredible shots. Missing stupid shots. (Hint: they look the same.) If the Celtics-killing, jaw-jutting, most-dangerous-man-in-the-game shows up, the Celtics might as well pack it in and go home. If the gunning, turnover-prone, reminder-of-age shows up, the Celtics could exploit the Lakers’ tendencies and run away on the road. There’s no way to stop Kobe. You just have to hope the bad version shows up.