Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics are both former NBA Finals MVPs.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers resume one of the most heated rivalries in all of sports. The Lakers are in Boston to face the Celtics.
This season, however, has been a far cry from the glory days of the two most successful franchises in the history of the NBA. Both teams are struggling for low-end playoffs spots, and both teams have been hit with major injuries.
The Celtics have won five in a row despite losing star point guard Rajon Rondo to a knee injury five games ago. Four of those wins came at TD Garden in Boston, and the Celtics currently hold the eight seed in the Eastern Conference based on a strong home record—17-9 on the season.
The Lakers also come into Thursday’s rivalry game on a hot streak. They have won three in a row and six of their last seven games. Even after all that, the Lakers are three games out of the Western Conference playoffs.
On the injury front, the Lakers were dealt a major blow on Wednesday when an MRI revealed that Pau Gasol had a tear in his plantar fascia and would be out indefinitely.
On Thursday, Gasol was scheduled to take a flight to Los Angeles in order to meet with team specialists and determine the best course for recovery. About the only positive to the injury is that the controversy surrounding the Gasol’s benching will die down until the Spaniard nears a return.
Unfortunately, the Lakers’ first-choice starting center, Dwight Howard, is also not fully healthy.
Kobe Bryant, however, did not hold back in sharing his thoughts on whether Howard should play.
"We don't have time for (Howard's shoulder) to heal," Bryant told ESPN Boston. "We need some urgency."
Howard tore his labrum in early January, and the right shoulder injury has caused the Lakers’ big man to miss six of the last 16 games. Howard also was unable to complete two games due to re-aggravating the same injury, so the Lakers have only been able to rely on Howard for 50 percent of the time in the last month.
Howard has missed the last three games in a row.
If Howard is unable to play, the Lakers will likely leave rookie Robert Sacre on the bench and play small-ball without a true center. Earl Clark is likely in for an active night being matched up against Kevin Garnett.
The Lakers will likely start Antawn Jamison to match up against Brandon Bass and allow Metta World Peace the challenge of stopping Paul Pierce from the opening tip.
Neither the Celtics nor the Lakers may look anything like a championship contender on Thursday night, but that does not change expectations when the Lakers and Celtics are involved.
"It's win a championship or everything is a complete failure,” Bryant told ESPN Boston. “That's just how (the Lakers) do it…When you think about it, there aren't many organizations that look at it that way. There are only two that can really honestly say that's what they live by -- Los Angeles and Boston."
It’s the Lakers in Boston to take on the Celtics. Tip-off is at 5 p.m. Pacific Time.