It's anybody's guess why the Lakers (25-29) have yet to find that motivation to go out and lay everything on the floor to help themselves win games. The passing of the legendary Dr. Jerry Buss Monday morning could be that push they need to make a historical run in the remaining 28 games to make the playoffs. Laker fans are optimistic that their team will answer the bell now that the franchise had lost its leader.
However, we all know the Lakers can win games. It's how they win tonight against the hated Boston Celtics (28-25) that will tell the tale if this team truly believe in themselves that they have what it takes to rise for the challenge.
Like the Lakers, the Celtics spent much of the season trying to find themselves. They thought they finally did after stringing together 6 wins in the beginning of the new year but faltered again by dropping the very next 6 games. It wasn't until they found out that they had lost Rajon Rondo for the season that they came together and refused to let a huge loss dictate the rest of the year for them. They only lost twice since then.
Despite his injuries, Dwight Howard has been the hub of criticisms from the media and former Laker players. His heart as a competitor and pride as a Laker have been questioned repeatedly. Whether you support Howard or not, there's no doubt the success of the Lakers from this point forward hinges heavily on the type of player Dwight decides to be. If he accepts to be that defensive juggernaut that he was brought over to be, the sky is the limit for this team. If not, next summer is going to be an even bigger test for Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak without Dr. Buss.
The stage has been set for the Lakers tonight. All eyes are on them to see how they'll respond to not only the loss of their owner, but also to their worst performance of the season that ended in a 21-point loss in Boston. Their body language off the bat should reveal their collective mental approach to the game. But it's what they do on the floor that will truly expose them of what they are as a team.
Tonight is the final meeting in the regular season for both teams with the Lakers looking to even the season series at 1-1. The Celtics have not taken the season series from the Lakers since the 2007-08 season. The Lakers have not lost to Boston at home since Jan. 30, 2011.
Matchup of the Game
Paul Pierce vs. Metta World Peace: A lot of things worked against the Lakers in Boston but none bigger than what Pierce did to them. His 24 points didn't look that impressive, but it was when he scored and his aggressive play on offense that rallied his team behind him. It's very important for Metta to take the challenge of matching up with Pierce on the defensive end. He was non-existent in that game in Boston because he looked to shoot instead of playing defense.
Keys to the Game
> Team Attitude: Kobe Bryant doesn't need any fine-tuning when it comes to his fervor to win. It's up to his teammates to elevate theirs at his level that's been the difference all season long.
> Turnovers: If the Lakers bring intensity tonight, then that would mean they're clicking on both ends of the floor. However, that doesn't always translate to how they value possession of the ball for the entire game. They only committed 12 turnovers against the Celtics last time, but that was enough for them to lose the game. If the Lakers are to turn the season around, this is one of the biggest areas they have to improve.
> Get Howard Going Early: Right now, the Lakers have no time figuring out why Howard hasn't been a dominant force on defense on a consistent basis. But it's evident, and as Dwight has admitted numerous times this season, he tends to put forth better effort and energy on defense when the offense starts with him. This is actually a win-win scenario for the Lakers since they should get that D12 they traded Andrew Bynum for on defense while putting the pressure on Howard to dominate the paint every single game from now on because the Lakers are doing exactly what he wants them to do on offense.
Watch Out For
CELTICS: Jeff Green: His production on both baskets the last game made a huge impact on how that game ended for the Lakers. This guy has picked up the pace since the start of the season. For the year, he's averaging 10.5 points on 42.7% shooting from the field off the bench. But since the loss of Rondo, Green is averaging 14.4 points and 53.1% respectively.
LAKERS: Kobe Bryant: We've seen everything from Kobe in the first half of the season — The Black Mamba and the "Kobe Johnson" Bryant. But with the need to win a majority of the remaining schedule to get to the playoffs and in the light of Dr. Buss's passing, there's a good chance we'll see a new version of Kobe starting tonight. The question is, what kind?
Tonight vs. Boston Celtics
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
TV: TWC SportsNet/ESPN
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
CELTICS: Leandro Barbosa (knee), Rajon Rondo (knee) and Jared Sullinger (lumbar disc) are all out.
LAKERS: Pau Gasol (foot) and Jordan Hill (hip) are both out.