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Lakers vs. Celtics Preview: Rekindling the rivalry

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The Lakers vs. Celtics rivalry won’t be the same without fans in the building

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Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have the oldest, longest and most storied rivalry in the NBA. It’s lain mostly dormant for the last several years, but it will always be a game with a little extra importance on the calendar, no matter where the two teams sit in their conference standings.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel, who has worked for both organizations and is 1-1 against the Celtics while leading the purple and gold, is well aware of the significance of Saturday’s game between the two sides.

“What makes it special? Two of the most accomplished franchises in the history of the game. Obviously many of us grew up in the 80s with Bird’s teams against Magic’s teams, and that rivalry helping to rejuvenate a struggling league,” Vogel said. “It goes back to the Auerbach days, and obviously the Pierce-Garnett-Ray Allen-Rondo teams had some good battles with the Kobe teams, and it just seems like there is a lot of history there, they’re two of the best teams in the league right now and it should be a good matchup.”`

And this year, with the Celtics looming as a possible NBA Finals opponent — right now they sit just fifth in the Eastern Conference at 10-7, but they’ve dealt with injuries and health and safety protocol absences all year and are more talented than their record indicates — the two teams’ matchup on Saturday, with both coming off of a loss and looking to rebound, takes on even more importance.

For LeBron James — who had plenty of battles with the Celtics even before his arrival in Los Angeles — it’s just an honor to take the floor against the purple and gold’s hated rival.

“It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool,” James said. “Just seeing some of the biggest games, some of the biggest rivalries, some of the best players to play this game to be a part of this rivalry, it’s a pretty cool thing to learn the history.

“I didn’t personally grow up watching them, obviously I was a little too young in the 80s, and then it was rekindled a little bit in the late 2000s when Kob’ and those guys were going against KG and those guys, but it’s pretty cool.”

However, James also had to acknowledge that this matchup will be a little different for one key reason.

“Without the Boston fans, without the Laker faithful, it’s not the same. It won’t feel the same on Saturday. It’s going to feel great to play another game against a great team, but it won’t have that rivalry feel. The fans are so much a part of that rivalry,” James said. “Just go back and watch those games and how key the fans were in all the battles over the course of the years.”

To James’ point, one only has to look back to the crowd reactions when the Lakers beat the Celtics in a tight 114-112 victory during their second battle of the season last year — their first one was a bit less competitive — to see that yeah, fans do make this game a little bit more special. The tone of the rivalry is also a little less combative now, not just because fans aren’t egging it on, but also because young Celtics star Jayson Tatum has admitted he grew up a Lakers fan, and most of the team was content to just praise James’ talent heading into the game rather than offer up any bulletin board material.

Still, given Vogel and James’ intimate perspectives and understanding of the history here, it’s hard not to imagine that this nationally televised matchup between two rivals who each had a day off and are coming off a loss will get a little more chippy than a normal game, fans or no.

We’ll see when the two tip off at 5:30 p.m. PT on Saturday. The game will be televised only on ABC.

Notes and Updates

  • It’s the usual suspects on the injury report for the Lakers.
  • The Celtics have a mostly clean bill of health for this one.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.