They are two of the most successful franchises in the history of the NBA. They have won a combination of 33 NBA Championships. They won the last three NBA titles and have met in two out of the last three NBA Finals. Last season they gave us a thrilling series that went to seven games.
If you did not read the read the headline, you have figured out that the teams I am describing are the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. As great as the franchises have been the last 3 seasons, this year both teams are just trying to make it to the end of the regular season. Which is a surprise considering that at times this season it appeared that another Celtics-Lakers Finals match up was possible.
At one point during the season, both of these teams were seen as the team to beat in their conference. When the season started, both were considered to be two of the best in the NBA. The Celtics were seen by many as the second best team in the East, just behind the Miami Heat with the Trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. The Lakers were seen as the team to beat in the West, coming off back-to-back NBA titles.
The Celtics started the season with a opening night win against the Heat that reminded the rest of the league that the Celtics were not ready to give up their place atop the Eastern conference. They were sitting 40-14 at the All-Star break and appeared to be well on their way to the NBA Finals. They appeared to have a lot going for them. They were getting back to full strength with the return of Kendrick Perkins on January 25. The return of Perkins would give the Celtics a deep post presence with Perkins, Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, Glenn Davis, and Kevin Garnett.
The Celtics fortunes may have changed on February 24. That day the dynamic of the team changed when the Celtics traded Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It is a move that affected the team when it was announced. That day the Celtics lost to the Denver Nuggets, who had traded away superstar Carmelo Anthony, by the score 89-75. The Celtics have been just 14-11 since that trade.
At the time, and even now, it is still seen as a questionable trade. Perkins was coming off a major injury suffered in the NBA Finals last spring, but he was perhaps their best low post presence. Especially with the injuries that have sidelined both Shaq and Jermaine. Shaq has only played a total of five minutes since February 2. Jermaine has recently returned from left knee surgery and has only played in 23 games this season.
The Celtics hope to have both O’Neals for the playoffs. They are going to need them to replace Perkins' presence in the post. The Celtics have been one of the worst teams down low this season. They are 29th in the league in team rebounding and dead last in offensive rebounds. They also rank 27th in the league in blocked shots. They may be one of the best defensive teams in the NBA giving up a league low 91 points a game.
Right now Boston sits as the third seed in the Eastern Conference and would play the sixth seed New York Knicks and Amare Stoudemire. If the Celtics hope to advance to another NBA Finals they will have to hope that the “O’Neal Towers” get healthy and can bring a low post presence in the playoffs.
Season played out a little differently for the L.A. Lakers. They started the season as the favorites in the Western Conference. With Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, and a full returning roster why not? Nobody had been able to knock out the champs yet, but this season has proven to be more difficult.
The first half of the season was a series of winning and losing streaks. The Lakers entered the All-Star break at 38-19, but it was the way they done so that caught people’s eye. The Lakers went to the break on a three game losing streak, two of the losses were to the Charlotte Bobcats and the Cleveland Cavaliers. A Cleveland team that the Lakers had beaten 112-57 in L.A. a month earlier.
It was a different story after the All-Star break. From February 22 to April 1, the Lakers would go 17-1. Their only loss would be on the road in Miami. They had improved their record to 55-20 and appeared to have regained the confidence of being the best team in the West. During their run they beat the San Antonio Spurs, the best team in the NBA all year, by 16 points in San Antonio.
So all appeared to be right with L.A. going into April. Well since beating the Utah Jazz on April 1, the Lakers have not won and are on a five game losing streak heading into a game Tuesday night against the Spurs. The reason for the losing streak? Defense. The Lakers are not able to keep teams from scoring right now.
Before the recent losing streak, the Lakers were only giving up 95.2 points a game, while scoring 101.3 points. During the losing streak, the Lakers are giving up 97.8 points a game and only scoring 90.8. The Lakers have had a tough stretch playing three of the top scoring teams in the NBA, going against the Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Golden State Warriors.
The Lakers have been through a lot the past few seasons. They played the most basketball of any team the past three seasons having played in the last three NBA Finals. So perhaps their focus has shifted from winning games in the regular season to preparing for the playoffs. Other teams right now prepare for the Lakers and give maximum effort throughout the whole game.
The Lakers may not be in the same mind frame right now. Instead, they know they have a long road ahead of them if they want to three-peat as NBA Champions. This year will be harder because they do not have home court advantage, but as proven in the past, you do not need home court to win in the playoffs. The Lakers have all the experience to win on the road in the playoffs.
The experience the Lakers have is also shared by the Celtics. Could both teams just be trying to save all of their energy for a playoff run for another chance to win the championship? We saw the Celtics use this strategy last season and make it all the way to the Finals. Both the Celtics and Lakers have proven they can beat the top teams in their conference. So don’t count out either team making a run, even it looks like they are headed south at the end of the season.
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