2-on-2: Celtics vs. Lakers (Game 40 of 66)
1. Besides Kobe's mask and Rondo's headband, what's different about the team you cover since the Lakers defeated the Celtics a month ago?
Forsberg: The Lakers loss started a gruesome spiral for Boston that saw them lose seven of eight, including five in a row before the All-Star break. The team was physically battered and mentally bruised and most in Boston wanted the team blown up before the second half of the season started. All the while, Doc Rivers preached patience and said the team would find out who they are when they were whole again after the break. Sure enough, Boston has won six of seven, including the first five out of the gates in the second half, and there's renewed confidence about this group (despite an eyesore in Philly where Boston essentially conceded the Atlantic Division) and suddenly everyone wonders if the Celtics will be buyers instead of sellers at the deadline.
2. Key matchup: What will you be focusing on this time around?
Kamenetzky: Metta World Peace vs. Paul Pierce. I'm always curious how L.A.'s supporting cast performs against quality defenses (in the first game, all but 20 of L.A.'s points came from Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum) but in terms of individual matchups, this is the biggie. MWP's offense is still very much a box-of-chocolates type thing, but defensively he's made much more consistent strides, and if he can lock down Pierce at Staples like he did in Boston the Lakers have a major advantage. If Pierce (or clever work from Doc) neutralizes that matchup, L.A.'s offensive issues are more likely put under a microscope against a still elite D.
Forsberg: Frontcourt vs. Frontcourt. So since the teams last met, the Celtics shuffled their starting lineup, moving Brandon Bass onto the first unit and pushing Kevin Garnett to center. Garnett has actually thrived at the 5, utilizing a newfound quickness (yes, even as he approaches his 36th birthday) against a league thin on true centers. Things will be decidedly more difficult against the league's most legit frontcourt and it will be interesting to see how both sides match up (Rivers has expressed concern about cross matchups, which the Celtics don't like). Regardless of how they line up, a Boston team that has been annihilated on the glass this week needs to do better than the minus-10 it was in the last matchup of these two teams.
Bonus question: Will the team you cover be active at the trade deadline? Does your team need a move?
Kamenetzky: I'll take the second part first, Quiz Show style: Yes. If the Lakers have any interest in competing for a title this year, some sort of roster upgrade has to happen. Doesn't need to be a blockbuster, because filling in the big hole behind the Bryant/Gasol/Bynum core would do wonders. Long term the Lakers need changes, as well. They don't have to come at the deadline, but they do have to come. Will they? It's really hard to tell. L.A.'s assets are limited (a TPE, a couple low-grade picks) outside of Gasol and Bynum, and is also concerned about importing salary without shedding money at the same time. No easy task, given the composition of the roster.
Forsberg: The recent success suggests the Celtics are more likely to be buyers than sellers at Thursday's deadline, but you can't rule out anything with Danny Ainge. The most likely scenario is probably Boston making a minor tweak at the end of the bench. The Celtics don't want to give up any of their draft picks to add depth when rotations will only shrink later in the year, but they are in desperate need of a big man (and won't balk at adding more pure talent anywhere to the roster). That said, if the right deal comes along for Ray Allen, where the Celtics can get younger at that position or stock up on picks, Ainge will be tempted to consider. In the end, I think this group is likely to have its final rodeo together and one last chance to rekindle that title magic.
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