The Los Angeles Lakers will even the score in their second matchup this season with cross-country rival Boston Celtics.
The Lakers have gone through a lot this season: A coaching change, internal drama among their stars, underperforming as a team and, most recently, the death of their longtime owner, Jerry Buss.
But despite the eventful months that have passed, the Lakers will beat the Celtics, whom they host Wednesday night.
The Celtics are coming off a loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night. Since November 10, the Celtics are just 3-7 in the second game of a back-to-back. Their most recent such loss came against the cellar-dwelling Charlotte Bobcats on February 11. The Lakers might be having a down season, but they are still far better than the Bobcats.
The Lakers, on the other hand, have not played a game since their February 14 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The extra rest will afford them an advantage over the Celtics. The Lakers play better basketball when they are rested; they have had six winning streaks of two or more games, and during none of them has there been a single back-to-back game.
Through all the Lakers' struggles, they have played great on offense this season. Coach Mike D'Antoni has been able to get his team to put up an average of 101.6 points per game, which ranks sixth in the NBA.
The Celtics have the ninth ranked scoring defense in the league, but not the personnel to guard each of the Lakers' stars: Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. Los Angeles should be able to generate many productive offensive drives against Boston.
Even if they miss some shots, the Lakers will get plenty of second-chance looks. The team ranks 12th in the league in offensive rebounding, and the Celtics allow the 16th most offensive rebounds to their opponents.
Though those numbers are not overwhelming, the Celtics just don't have someone who can match Howard on the boards, and he will have an easy time taking advantage of that. Sure, during that February 7 win the Celtics held Howard to nine total rebounds—only three offensive—but it was the center's first game back after a three-game injury, and he only played 28.23 minutes.
After some time off for the All-Star break to rest, Howard should be more effective this time around.
In order to match the Lakers' input, the Celtics are going to have to shoot a very high percent from the field; Los Angeles has the league's third-highest average for defensive rebounds per game. In the Celtics' win over the Lakers this season, they were able to shoot 52.9 percent from the field, including 45.5 percent from three-point territory. While the Lakers defense is bad, it is unlikely that the Celtics will shoot such high percentages again.
The Celtics have been a completely different team away from the comforts of the TD Garden this season. On the road, they are a woeful 8-16, but at home they are an excellent 20-9. The Lakers have had the same problem this season; they are just 9-18 away from the Staples Center and 16-11 inside.
Fortunately for the Lakers, they are the hosts of this game, which gives them a significant edge.