Beat LA! Enough said!

Los Angeles Lakers (14-11) at Boston Celtics (14-10)
Thursday, February 9
8:00 PM ET
Regular Season Game #25, Home Game #17
TD Garden
Referees:   Derrick Stafford,  Marat Kogut,  Gary Zielinski 
When the schedule comes out, there are certain games that players and fans look for and circle.  This is one of the games that Celtics fans and players circle.  There is no question that this is a rivalry.  There is no love lost between these two franchises or their fans.

Last season they split the series 1-1.   It was on February 10 last season, against the Lakers, that Ray Allen broke Reggie Miller's 3 point record.  Thankfully Paul Pierce got his record out of the way in the last game so that won't be a distraction in this one.  In the two games last season, Pierce averaged 23.5 points and Ray averaged 20.5 points while on the Lakers side, Kobe averaged 32 points and Gasol 16.

The Celtics have won their last 5 games and 9 of their last 10.  The Lakers have lost their last two games and are 5-5 in their last 10 games.  The Lakers have struggled on the road, with just a 3-9 record away from the Staples Center.  The Celtics struggled early, but have been playing well of late, boasting a 10-6 record at home.  

Word out of this morning's shoot around was that all 15 players were present and participated.  For the Lakers, they expect their bench to get a big boost as Steve Blake returns from the rib injury that has kept him out for awhile.  Both teams should be as close to full strength as any team could be considering the age of their key players and the condensed schedule. 

There shouldn't be any lack of motivation in this game for either team and it should be a good game.  When these two teams meet up, there's just one thing to say, and that is Beat LA!!! 

Probable Starters
Point Guard:  Rajon Rondo   ----------------   Shooting Guard:  Ray Allen

Center:  Jermaine O'Neal  

Small Forward:  Paul Pierce  ------------------ Power Forward: Kevin Garnett

Celtics Reserves
Chris Wilcox
Mickael Pietrus
JaJuan Johnson
E'Twaun Moore
Sasha Pavlovic
Greg Stiemsma
Avery Bradley
Brandon Bass

Marquis Daniels (ankle) day to day
Keyon Dooling (hip)  day to day

Probable Starters
Point Guard:  Derek Fisher -------------------- Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant

Center: Andrew Bynum

Small Forward: Metta World Peace -------------------- Power Forward: Pau Gasol

Lakers Reserves
Troy Murphy
Andrew Goudelock
Matt Barnes
Jason Kapono
Devin Eubankes
Josh McRoberts
Darius Morris
Luke Walton

Steve Blake (rib)  probable  
Key Matchups
Let's face it, every matchup is crucial in this game.  But I think some may benefit the Celtics the most if we can get the upper hand in them.

Rajon Rondo vs Derek Fisher
We know that Rondo sets the tone and the pace for the Celtics.  As Rondo goes so go the Celtics.  When Rondo is aggressive on both ends of the court the Celtics are a much better team.  The Celtics need Rondo to be aggressive in driving to the hoop and in finding the open man.  He needs to set the pace of the game and keep the ball moving on offense.  Kobe will probably be guarding him most of the time rather than Fisher and the more active and aggressive he is, the more tired Kobe will be down the stretch.  If Fisher guards him, he should be able to get past him at will.

Kevin Garnett vs Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol is the Lakers 2nd option on offense.  More often than not, Pau has let KG get into his head.   KG has to keep the upper hand and keep Pau on his heels and off his game.  The Celtics will need KG's defense especially but they will also need him to hit those midrange shots that seem so automatic for him these days.

Honorable Mention
Jermaine O'Neal vs Andrew Bynum
Bynum is younger, stronger, dirtier and dumber.  Jermaine needs to keep him from getting inside position for rebounds, putbacks and easy scores.    This is easier said than done.  Hopefully JO can get through the game without Bynum pulling some dirty play to injure him.

Paul Pierce vs Metta World Peace (That is so stupid)
Pierce got the record out of the way in the last game so should be free to concentrate on doing whatever it takes to win this game.  Artest isn't the defender he used to be but still can play decent defense when the mood hits him. The Captain has been playing very well and hopefully he can continue to play well and get into Artest's head (which can be a very scary place) and get the best of this matchup.

Ray Allen vs Kobe Bryant
Kobe has been putting up some incredible numbers so far this season.  Just as with the Celtics big 3, he's not as young as he used to be but he is still capable of taking over a game.  The Celtics will need to try to keep Kobe from going off on offense and also try to tire him out by making him play defense.  I don't see Kobe chasing Ray through screens and so Fisher will probably get that job.  Ray should win that matchup.  

Keys to the Game
Defense -  Defense is the key to winning this game and to winning Banner 18.   The Celtics have been winning with their defense and they need to continue that tough lock down defense, especially in this game if they want to get the win.  

- Rebounding is second only to defense as a key to winning.  The Celtics have been rebounding as a team and that has improved their rebounding numbers.  They need to crash the boards and aggressively go after every rebound to prevent second chance points and easy put backs along with fast break points.  

Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics still tend to lose focus and turn the ball over too much.  They have to watch their passes and not allow the Lakers to get easy steals from them by not paying attention to where the defenders are.  They can't give the Lakers extra opportunities by being sloppy with the ball.

Bench Play - The Celtics bench is finally healthy and they have been playing very well.  If they play up to their potential, this matchup should go to the Celtics.  Which bench would you rather have?  Pietrus, Bass, Wilcox, Johnson, Moore, Bradley, Stiemsma, Pavlovic, Dooling and Daniels or Murphy, Goudelock, Barnes, Kapono, Eubanks, McRoberts, Morris, Walton and Blake?  I'd go with the C's bench every time!

Effort and Focus - There should be no lack of motivation for this game.  Although many of the Celtics players weren't here for the 2010 game 7 debacle where the game was stolen from them,  they should get a sense of the rivalry between these two teams from the players who were here for it.  There is no excuse for anything less than full out effort and focus in this game.

Official Report

Derrick Stafford
Over his 23 NBA seasons, Derrick Stafford has worked 1,402 regular
season, 99 playoff, and five Finals games. He was a member of the
crew that officiated the 1997 McDonald’s Championship in Paris, the Legends All-Star Game in Orlando and the 2002 NBA All-Star Game. The 23-year NBA officiating veteran has also served twice on the Executive Board of the National Basketball Referee Association. Stafford has six years of CBA officiating experience, and he officiated Pro-Am basketball for six years. He also has seven years of collegiate officiating and 10 years of high school officiating experience in Georgia. Yet another official that is known to be quick to call technical fouls. Pat Riley and Stafford have a bit of bad blood between them. Back in 2003 when Riley was coaching, he accused Stafford of shouting "It's not about you. Go on TV crying." at Riley when Riley complained excessively about the calls. Stafford was suspended for 2 games as a result. Stafford was also fined as a result of a complaint that Lawrence Frank made when he was coach of the Nets. I found 4 other articles detailing complaints about Stafford for his actions or comments. It seems that Mr Stafford is a hot head who loves to give out quick technicals and lash out at players and coaches who question him. The Celtics are 1-0 this season and 7-3 over the last 10 games with Stafford on the court. Their win was against Toronto and the Celtics shot 32 free throws to 20 for the Raptors. The Lakers are 1-1 this season and 7-3 over their last 10 with Stafford. His home W/L record this season is 14-6.

Marat Kogut
Kogut is entering his 3rd season as an NBA referee. The son of immigrants from the Ukraine, his younger years were sometimes tough. His family immigrated when he was just 7 days old. At one time he and his family were homeless and slept on a park bench when they were forced to leave a Queens homeless center. In high school, he spent his free time volunteering as a ref at a local recreation league. At 6-foot-2, he knew he wasn’t tall or talented enough to make the pros as a player. At 16, Kogut became the youngest person certified by the local International Association of Approved Basketball Officials. His professional experience includes 3 years in the WNBA, as well as 4 years in the NBA Development League, where he officiated over 180 games, including the Finals in his last two seasons and the 2009 D-League All-Star Game in Phoenix, Ariz. Prior to joining the NBA officiating staff, Kogut worked several years at the college level as well as 4 years in New York metro area High School basketball. Also, he spent two years in Atlanta working for the Supervisor of Officials of the Southeastern Conference. The Celtics are 0-1 this season and 6-4 in the last 10 games with Kogut calling the them. The loss was to the Knicks on Christmas Day in which the Celtics shot 30 free throws to 34 for the Knicks. The Lakers are 2-0 this season and 7-3 in their last 10 games with Kogut as a ref. In their 2 wins, the Lakers shot 59 free throws to 21 for their opponents (Clippers and Suns). His home W/L record this season is 11-7

Gary Zielinski
Zielinski has officiated 616 regular season games and six Playoff games. In addition to his 10 seasons in the NBA, Zielinski officiated for seven seasons in the CBA and four in the WNBA. Zielinski worked the CBA Finals from 1997-2000, the CBA All-Star Game in 1995 and the WNBA Finals from 1998-2001. The Celtics are 1-0 this season with Zielinski in the court. That win was against the Pacers and the officiating was terrible. The Celtics shot 14 free throws to 31 for the Pacers and in one sequence at the end, with the Celtics ahead the refs gave the Pacers 2 shots and the ball on a bogus technical foul on Pietrus. The Celtics are 9-1 in their last 10 games with Zielinski on the court while the Lakers are 2-0 this season and 5-5 in their last 10. In the 2 wins this season, the Lakers shot 24 free throws to 38 for their opponents (Utah, Denver) His home W/L record this season is 11-7.

Home Court and the Officials
The Celtics have the home crowd behind them and they need to let that give them a boost in this game.  We know that the officials can make a difference in a game (see 2010 Finals Game 7) and hopefully in this game the officials will let them play and not try to influence the outcome.