Everything’s relevant in series again

Times Staff Writer

The Lakers and Celtics. Once again, with feeling.

When Boston knocked off Los Angeles, 107-94, in the TD Banknorth Garden on Nov. 23, it did more than end the Lakers’ three-game winning streak against the Celtics. It may have helped nudge a rivalry that dominated the NBA in the 1960s and ‘80s back toward relevance.

Certainly tonight’s matchup at Staples Center is being treated with more than a passing nod in some circles. For example, NBA TV will run programming on the series from 9 a.m. until game time, a lot of it centering on the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird era.

Of course the Celtics are themselves relevant again in a big way, rebounding from last year’s 24-58 season to a league-best 24-3 record, going into their Saturday game at Utah. Their Big Three -- Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce -- have New Englanders envisioning the franchise’s first NBA title since 1986.


The Lakers are 19-10 after routing Utah on Friday at Staples Center. They have won four straight and have enjoyed a robust December, winning 10 of 13. They feel surer about themselves than when they played Boston last month.

“We’re better,” Kobe Bryant said after a relatively short practice Saturday morning. “Our continuity is better, our rhythm is better, and I think we have a better understanding of what our strengths and weaknesses are.”

Even when Bryant wanted to keep the conversation at the “it’s one of 82 on the schedule” level, a little prodding showed this was more than just another regular-season contest.

“Don’t get me wrong; this being a [marquee matchup] is great for the game and great for the fans as a whole,” Bryant said. “To have this game being spotlighted, and the significance of the rivalry . . . as a fan you can allow yourself to be more excited about it. As a player you can’t let your emotions get too out of whack.”

Bryant does have a favorite memory of the ‘80s rivalry. “Kurt getting body-slammed,” he said, referring to current Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis getting a necktie tackle from Celtics forward Kevin McHale during the 1984 NBA Finals. “That’s the first time I ever saw Clark Kent take flight.”

And what would a Lakers-Celtics game be without a little side story?

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is tied with the late Red Auerbach for seventh all-time in wins with 938. His first chance to break the tie with the Boston coaching legend is tonight.

“A touch of whimsy or irony? A little of both, don’t you think?” said Jackson, who is 10-5 against Boston as the Lakers’ coach. “But that’s not really the issue. The issue is about meeting the standard of what the Celtics bring to the game, matching our record against their record, and see how we do.”



vs. Boston, 7, FSN West, Prime Ticket

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- 570, 1330.

Records -- Lakers 19-10, Celtics 25-3.

Record vs. Celtics -- 0-1.

Update -- The Lakers are 80-96 all-time against Boston. . . . Jackson continues to see progress. “Winning on the road and coming back here and sustaining that effort [Friday] was important to us. We knew the games ahead would be difficult; this has been a good run for us.” . . . Sasha Vujacic (left ankle) and Luke Walton (right ankle) are recovering from sprains and did not practice with the team Saturday, although Walton did some shooting on the side. Both are considered game-time decisions, but Jackson didn’t sound confident of their availability.