Game: Lakers (25-29) vs. Boston Celtics (28-25)
Where: Staples Center
Time: 7:30 PST
TV: ESPN/Time Warner Cable SportsNet/Time Warner Cable Deportes
A certain aura lingers in the air.
Outside Staples Center, Lakers fans have hung posters and pictures in honor of the late owner Dr. Jerry Buss. Before they take center court, the Lakers will honor Buss with an unspecified tribute, a touching gesture to the owner that died Monday at age 80 because of an unspecified form of cancer that affected his kidneys.
The Lakers will also wear commemorative “JB” patches along their jersey for the rest of the season.
This backdrop will all coincided with the Lakers (25-29) hosting the Boston Celtics (28-25), their heated rival.
“That’s wild,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They’re all professional enough to know and understand the importance of what Dr. Buss meant to the organization and the city. The best way to pay tribute to him is to go out and perform at the highest level you can.”
Buss always measured the Lakers against the Celtics. The Lakers have conceded it’s bittersweet their 16 NBA championships still remain one short of Boston’s during Buss’ passing. Despite a $100 million payroll to support a team full of superstars featuring Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, the Lakers are nowhere near championship material.
Instead, the Lakers are in 10th place in the Western Conference and trail the Houston Rockets (29-26) by 3 ½ games for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Lakers had won eight of their past 12 games entering the All-Star break. But a double-digit loss to the Clippers made the Lakers look worn.
So much that one of D’Antoni’s assistant coaches wrote this on the whiteboard.
“Recharge your batteries. Come back ready to play.”
Will the Lakers play rejuvenated because of rest and a want to play well in Buss’ honor? Or will all the surrounding emotions regarding Buss’ passing sap the team’s energy?
“We can’t allow our emotions to take control of us for the rest of the season,” Howard said. “It is sad. But we can’t let it take us out of what we have to focus on tonight.”
The Lakers didn’t do a good job doing that in their 116-95 loss Feb. 7 to the Celtics.
That’s when controversy erupted over Howard’s ongoing shoulder injury and Kobe Bryant being quoted in an ESPN.com article that suggested the Lakers’ center needs “more urgency” in playing through the injury.
The Lakers received their wish in Howard returning for the first time after missing the past three games because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder. But his nine points on eight field-goal attempts, seven rebounds and four turnovers provided little evidence he’s fully healthy.
Boston’s repeated drives to the rim showed Howard’s hardly ready enough to become the defensive anchor he promised he’d fulfill. It also didn’t help that no one spaced the floor well enough to stop Boston from shooting 46 of 87 from the field.
Bryant went away from his facilitating role, posting 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting and zero assists. As if he had any other choice. The Lakers shot 3 of 17 from 3-point range, led by Metta World Peace going 0 of 5 from the perimeter.
“The last time we played these guys, they blew us out,” Howard said. “We need to come out tonight and give a better effort overall. We looked at the film and we were all disgusted with our effort as a team.”
That might not be enough.
The Celtics have gone 8-2 since Boston guard Rajon Rondo tore an ACL on his right knee. How is Boston without Rondo?
“A different team, but they found good balance,” D’Antoni said. “Guys are starting to step up in his place and they probably have better ball movement. The ball moves and they’re harder to guard. They’ve done okay. They’re dangerous with or without him.”
The Lakers sound unsure whether that newfound rest and hope to play well in Buss’ honor will actually translate.
“Some guys will be recharged and some guys will be tired,” D’Antoni said. “You watch the other games last night and it takes a while to get back into the groove. It all comes back into the energy put into the game and fighting through difficult times. We haven’t shown that ability up to now. It’ll be a nice time to start.”