The Boston Celtics will visit the Staples Center on Thursday to play reigning champions LA Lakers for the first time in the 2020-21 NBA season. The LA Lakers will continue to be without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, though.
The shorthanded LA Lakers (34-21, fifth in the West) are coming off a solid victory over the Charlotte Hornets on the road, closing out a seven-game road trip with a 4-3 record.
Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics have won four games on the trot, which has helped them sit in fifth place in the East, with a 29-26 record. The Boston Celtics now have the longest winning streak in the Eastern Conference and the second-longest active streak in the league.
In their only other meeting of the season on January 30th, the LA Lakers took a 96-95 win over the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden.
Boston Celtics vs LA Lakers prediction
Without James and Davis, the LA Lakers have dropped to fifth in the Western Conference. Since James' injury on March 20th, the LA Lakers have gone 6-7, with their offense being 29th in the league in that period (103.4 points scored per 100 possessions).
However, they have found some good results recently (going 6-4 in their last ten games), as the LA Lakers' defense continues to be elite. Their defense has been fourth-best in the league since James got injured, while the LA Lakers have the best Defensive Rating of any team this season.
Even though the LA Lakers have done a good job in their last few games, the Boston Celtics do have a complete roster to face the reigning champions and are on a hot streak.
Three of the Boston Celtics' last four wins came against teams in postseason or play-in places - New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers. The Boston Celtics will end their three-game road trip in the West with their visit to the Staples Center. But it would be tough for them to win at the home of the champions.
On that note, let's have a look at a hypothetical combined starting five of the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics.
Boston Celtics vs LA Lakers combined starting 5
Point Guard - Dennis Schroder | Shooting Guard - Jaylen Brown | Small Forward - Jayson Tatum | Power Forward - Kyle Kuzma | Center - Montrezl Harrell.
Dennis Schroder has done a good job for the LA Lakers in his role as a starting guard. He played well alongside LeBron James and was often the third-best player when the reigning champions were at full strength.
Since James' injury, Schroder has stepped up in offense, putting up 17 points and 7.4 assists per game with 43/43/89 shooting splits in his last 13 games. Overall, Schroder is averaging 15.4 points and 5.4 assists per game this campaign.
Meanwhile, for the Boston Celtics, 24-yeard-old Jaylen Brown and 23-year-old Jayson Tatum have been the best players. Brown is performing at the best level of his career.
The Boston Celtics' shooting guard is averaging career highs in points (24.3) and assists (3.5) per game. Brown is also posting career highs in field-goal percentage (48.6), 3P percentage (39.7) and free-throw percentage (75.1).
During the Boston Celtics' current winning streak, Jayson Tatum has been clutch in offense, exploding for averages of 35 points, ten rebounds and four assists per game with 52/46/92 shooting splits. For the season, the Boston Celtics' forward is averaging 25.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell have also played well for the LA Lakers without James and Davis. They have been key for the reigning champions to remain in the top five in the West.
Kuzma is putting up 16 points and seven rebounds per game but needs to be more efficient offensively. His field-goal attempts per game have gone up to 15.2 in the last 11 matches, but he has made only 39% of his field goals and 28% from the three-point line.
Meanwhile, Montrezl Harrell has been superb for the LA Lakers this campaign, playing every game he has been available for. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year award winner is averaging 14 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in 55 appearances, averaging a little over 24 minutes.