Every year, the Celtics-Lakers match up has at least one game nationally televised. Why? Because it is quite possibly the greatest rivalry in all of sports. Together, the Celtics and Lakers have won 33 out of 71 NBA championships. That’s almost half of the history of this league, chalked up to the dominance of these two franchises. Thanks to Lavar Ball and his marketing schemes, all of that history now falls on the shoulders of Lonzo Ball.
ESPN has dubbed tonight “Lonzo Wednesday”. It didn’t matter to them that the Celtics are going for 10 wins in a row and hold the NBA’s best record. It didn’t matter that this might be the moment this rivalry gets renewed, because of BOTH teams having exciting, youthful talent. But most surprisingly, it didn’t matter to the sports giant that Lonzo is not the most captivating rookie playing in this mid-week rivalry game, and perhaps not even on his own team.
TATUM VS KUZMA
For real hoops fans, this is the most exciting storyline of this game. These two rookies have stood out as some of the brightest from what is looking like a strong 2017 class in the early going. Tatum was taken 3rd overall, and brought some hype and expectations, being such a high lottery pick. He has exceeded what anyone thought he would do in his first year. In all of the shuffling of the starting lineup, Tatum has been a constant. Amazingly, he has shown as much trust in the rookie as anyone, giving him 31.6 minutes per game thus far.
Tatum has been a huge surprise defensively, in the top 15 in the NBA in both defensive win shares & defensive rating. Offensively, he has yet to be fully unleashed, but is finding open looks and knocking down shots efficiently. He is shooting 50% from the field and 52.9% from 3, but is only taking 9.3 shots per game. He has had a couple 20 point games, including the last game in Atlanta. Even though Tatum has had some great games already, I would say he has yet to truly have a breakout game. After passing up a few too many open shots against Atlanta, he should be much more aggressive tonight.
STEAL OF THE DRAFT?
Kyle Kuzma was selected 27th overall, and is already considered the steal of the draft by some. It’s a little early, but through ten games he has established himself as a player that is here to stay. The kid nobody knew before the draft, Kuzma is displaying a wide array of offensive moves. Much like Tatum, he is able to dive deep into his arsenal to score from anywhere on the court. Kuzma has been given the starting nod ahead of Julius Randle in the absence of Larry Nance. He is playing well enough to make the Lakers think twice about sending him back to the bench.
Since this is a smaller lineup for the Lakers, it is possible Tatum starts at the 4. This would put him head-to-head with the rookie that most closely resembles his game. Both of these guys have gone above and beyond expectations set for them already this season. It will be fun to watch the two go at it with such similar styles of play. While Lonzo will be the main storyline ahead of the game, I expect to see the narrative shift to these two rookies by post-game.
WIN STREAK ON THE LINE
Perhaps the headline of this game should be the Celtics putting their win streak on the line. No other team in the NBA has reached 9 wins. The Celtics have put up 9 W’s in a row. On the surface, this looks like an easy one for them. They should be hyped for the game, as they make their return to TD Garden coming off a 3-game road trip. The fans should be equally hyped just to be a part of the win streak and watch the C’s go to work at home for the first time in a week. Translation: the Garden is going to be ROCKING.
We can’t discredit the fact that the Lakers are capable of pulling out a win on any given night. They have talented players that can get hot, paired with veterans to lead them to some extra wins. They have had some exciting moments in their season already and definitely have the building blocks for the future. However, on this night I expect the Celtics to feel a little slighted by the headline. While not typically the way a Brad Stevens team operates, it would be fun to see Kyrie and the other guards feed Tatum heavily to show the world that this night should be dubbed “Tatum Wednesday” if they insist on giving the spotlight to a rookie.
My prediction: Celtics win by 5-10 in a high-scoring game. Tatum steals the show on “Lonzo Wednesday” with his first career 30 point performance.
PREVIEW OF THINGS TO COME?
The Celtics are on the come up, and the Lakers are being sure not to fall too far behind their cross-conference rival. Both teams are plentiful in young players, each with an average age of just over 24. Further, they are talented, high draft picks expected to take their teams places in the future. I can’t stress enough that this is a long way down the road. Likely not until the end of the Warriors dominance, but these two teams are destined to meet each other again in the Finals one day.
Will it be with the cores each have put together now? For a Finals showdown, both teams need to keep their young talent and let them grow together. And then, they actually have to turn in to what they were drafted to be. It is going to be a long road until that day comes, but my guess is next time it happens, there will be a few key players left from the current Celtics and Lakers rosters. Hopefully when that time comes, ESPN again gives the Celtics a little extra motivation by leaving them out of the storyline entirely.