Is there a better rivalry than the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers?
The Celtics have won an NBA-best 17 titles while the Lakers are right behind with 16 championships. The franchises have met 12 times on the NBA Finals stage, with the Lakers taking the most recent title in 2010.
That would be the last time that either team made a Finals appearance.
While the last decade was full of ups and downs for both franchises, the 2019-20 season marks a new era for both Boston and LA, effectively ushering in a new chapter of the storied rivalry.
Who's to say we can't see the 13th iteration of a Lakers-Celtics Finals this year?
As it stands…
The Lakers appear to be running away with the No. 1 seed in the West.
LA has set itself apart from the rest of the conference by making a concerted effort to develop chemistry from the onset of the regular season. In doing so, LeBron James and Anthony Davis have looked like the league's top duo, and they're only going to get better with time.
This is a team that has an abundance of experience and the capability to tap into another level once the postseason comes.
With a number of viable threats present in the West, securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs as a one seed could ultimately be the difference in aiding a potential Finals run for the Lakers.
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Are you really going to doubt LeBron in a potential Game 7 at home? He's 4-0 in such games in his career.
As for the Celtics, the ideal finish would be second or third in the East.
Over 25 games remain in the season but the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference appears to be taking form in tiers. No one's catching the Milwaukee Bucks, who are on a 70-win pace, for the first seed.
The Toronto Raptors and Celtics currently come in at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, and while they're close to one another in the standings, Boston and Toronto have built a considerable cushion to separate themselves from the fourth seed. Because of the Bucks' dominance, the key to making a Finals run in the East is prolonging a potential meeting until the Eastern Conference Finals. Securing the second or third seed would do just that.
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Boston is working to position itself to make a run similar to that of Toronto last season. The All-Star duo of Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker has looked like one of the best in the East. Although Walker won't be active in this one, Tatum is making strides towards the realm of superstardom on a nightly basis with averages of 26.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists over his last 12 games.
Let's not forget the depth Boston has, thanks to the likes of Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart on the perimeter while Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis hold it down inside.
Tatum learned how to take over a playoff series in his rookie season. Now, in Year 3, the key is for him to be the best player for the entirety of a series, a very realistic goal, even in a potential showdown with the Bucks.
Boston and LA are set to meet for the second and final time this year; the first meeting didn't go so well for the Lakers.
In a 139-107 Celtics win, Tatum led all scorers with 27 points while Anthony Davis was held to just nine points (on 3-for-7 shooting) in 23 minutes. It was a night to forget for LA, as 139 still stands as the largest figure it has allowed from an opponent this season.
Such a defensive showing is uncharacteristic for the Lakers, who boast a Defensive Rating of 106.2, good for fifth in the league. Offensively, it was on par for the Celtics, who have the league's fifth-best Offensive Rating at 112.6.
They've done it with different personnel, but it's worth noting that both Boston and LA are each in the league's top-five in Offensive and Defensive Rating.
Here's how the two teams compare:
|Boston Celtics||NBA Rank||Los Angeles Lakers||NBA Rank|
The biggest takeaway is that these teams have plenty of star power and have established themselves as elite on both sides of the ball. The latter of the two facts is key for any team with Finals aspirations.
A Rivalry Renewed
Don't for one second think that the 2019-20 season is an anomaly or some one-off. There's plenty of reason to believe that each of these teams will be powers in their respective conferences for years to come.
For Boston, Tatum will be just 22 years old at the season's end and while Kemba is set to turn 30 during the playoffs, he is under contract for at least two more years, with a player option he'll likely pick up after that.
As for the rest of the core, Brown is a future All-Star and is just 23, Smart is the heart and soul of the roster and will soon be 26 and Hayward is just nearing 30 like Walker. The C's also have five rookies under guaranteed contracts and a second-year big man in Robert Williams III that has the potential to be an answer to interior needs in the future.
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When looking at the Lakers, it's impossible to ignore the fact that LeBron is now 35 and in his 17th season. But it's LeBron and any conventional wisdom goes out the window when you consider the fact that he is still in his prime as an MVP candidate at this point in his career.
The future lies in the hands of Anthony Davis, who turns 27 in March and is likely to re-sign with Los Angeles this offseason.
LA is a much older team than Boston with just two of its players under the age of 25 and six over the age of 30, but with AD as the centrepiece, the franchise is in a position to continue to retool as it sees fit in the coming years.
This year marks the beginning of a transitional phase as it is the second of a four-year deal signed by James in 2018. As LeBron heads into the back end of his deal with the Lakers and once he does take that step back, he'll hand the keys right to his running mate, meaning LA is in good hands for years to come.
If not this year, it's fair to assume we'll see the Lakers and Celtics back on the biggest stage soon enough. It's the best rivalry there is, after all.
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