Celtics Take On Injury-Ravaged Lakers In Lone Visit To L.A.

Pau Casol, Anthony DavisThe greatest NBA rivalry over the years has been between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. They have combined for 33 NBA titles, with Boston ahead 17-16. The Lakers lead in Finals appearances 31-21. The franchises have met in the Finals 12 times, with Boston winning nine. The Lakers won the last meeting, in 2010.

The teams meet just twice each regular season, and both games are usually circled eagerly by fans and television network executives. However, this isn’t like most seasons. For the first time since the 1993-94 campaign, both the Celtics and Lakers will likely be home for playoff basketball. On the bright side, Boston’s game in L.A. on Friday night will have live betting at Bovada.

In the short term, the Lakers are worse off than Boston. Kobe Bryant has played only six games this season and hasn’t seen a minute on the court since Dec. 17. Now there are whispers Bryant might not attempt to return this year because the Lakers are going nowhere.

The Lakers’ second-best player is Pau Gasol, and he’s been out since Jan. 31 with a groin injury. It’s possible Gasol can return this week, but now his trade value is limited ahead of Thursday’s deadline. He will be a free agent after the season, and the Lakers would like to get a first-round pick for him. Point guard Steve Nash, another future Hall of Famer, has been limited to 10 games and is broken down at 40.

Los Angeles has been so injury-ravaged it’s having to give big minutes to the likes of Shawne Williams, Wesley Johnson, Chris Kaman and Kendall Marshall. No wonder the team enters the second half of the season having lost a franchise-record seven straight home games.

The good news for the Lakers is they might not be down for long. They could be around $30 million under the salary cap next season with only three current players having guaranteed deals (Nash and Bryant are two of them). While luring LeBron James seems unlikely, getting someone like Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh isn’t far-fetched. Star players enjoy playing in the shadow of Hollywood. Many people think Minnesota’s Kevin Love will sign with his hometown Lakers when he’s a free agent after the 2014-15 season.

The Lakers also are going to have an excellent pick in this summer’s loaded draft. The last time L.A. and Boston each had a top-10 draft pick was in 1994, when Boston took Eric Montross No. 9 and L.A. grabbed Eddie Jones No. 10.

One of the Lakers’ five wins in the new year came Jan. 17 in Boston. The Lakers were seven-point underdogs but pulled off a 107-104 upset behind 24 points, 13 rebounds and six assists from Gasol. Marshall hit a 3-pointer with 1:08 left to give the Lakers their first lead of the second half. The Celtics missed their final seven shots from the field in Rajon Rondo’s season debut.

The Lakers’ game Wednesday against Houston also will have live betting and is noteworthy, as it’s Dwight Howard’s first game in Los Angeles since bolting as a free agent. Last time out, L.A. lost 113-99 on the road, failing to cover the 13.5-point spread.

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