After losing two games in a row for the first time this season, the Los Angeles Lakers look to get back on the winning side of things on Saturday in a nationally televised game on ABC against the other NBA behemoth, the Boston Celtics at 5:30 p.m. local time.
Between them, the Lakers and Celtics hold 34 NBA championships, with Los Angeles evening things out by earning the franchise’s 17th NBA title last season.
While the days of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird battling out in the zenith of the NBA during the 1980s are in the rearview mirror of both franchises, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said the matchup between West Coast and East Coast powers remains significant.
“What makes it special is it’s two of the most accomplished franchises in the history of the game,” Vogel said. “Obviously, many of us grew up in the ‘80s with the Bird teams against the Magic teams and that rivalry helping to rejuvenate a struggling league. And (former NBA Commissioner) David Stern’s marketing of those two stars really just continued to grow that rivalry.
“It goes back to the Red Auerbach days, and obviously the (Paul) Pierce, (Kevin) Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rando teams had some good battles with the Kobe (Bryant) teams. There’s a lot of history there. We’re two of the best teams in the league right now. And it should be good matchup.”
The Lakers have two games left on the team’s seven-game road trip -- the longest road trip of the season for L.A. The Lakers are 3-2 on the trip, with Boston on Saturday and a game on the road against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday before returning home to Los Angeles.
The Lakers are 10-2 on the road this season and 14-6 on the year -- good enough for No. 3 in the Western Conference. They face a Boston team that’s 10-7 overall and No. 4 in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s pretty cool, just knowing the history,” LeBron James said about the game. “You know Lakers-Celtics just over the course of this league, throughout the history of this league and what it means to this league. And just seeing some of the biggest games, some of the best rivalries and some of the best players to play this game.
“To be a part of this rivalry is a pretty cool thing. It’s not like I grew up personally watching them; I was a little too young in the ‘80s. And then they rekindled things a little bit in the late 2000s when Kobe and those guys were going against KD (Kevin Garnett) and those guys. But right now, it’s different. Without the Boston fans and the Laker faithful, it’s not the same. And it won’t feel the same on Saturday.”
James said one of the reasons for his team’s recent struggles has been the lack of practice time on the road to work through chemistry issues, with new players like Marc Gasol, Wesley Matthews, Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schröder still finding their way.
“A lot of our games also are like big practices for us, too,” James said. “We have to learn on the fly, and coach (Vogel) is still learning different lineups -- what combinations work and what combinations don’t work. Myself, I’m out there playing with certain lineups, and certain lineups I don’t play with. … It’s all a learning experience, and all of us are trying to figure it out.”