Lakers must step up to challenge against Celtics

The Boston Celtics may be struggling, but the Lakers still know they will face a team today that will play physical basketball and play defense.

The Lakers have won three consecutive games and have the second-best record in the NBA at 36-11. The Celtics have lost two in a row and have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference at 29-15.

None of that matters when these two rivals play each other.

“We have to meet the style of play that’s going to be played against us, it’s as simple as that,” said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who can tie Pat Riley for the franchise’s all-time wins record at 533 with a victory today. “Find out how the game is going to be played the first two or three minutes and match the style.”

The Lakers swept the two-game series from the Celtics last season, which went a long way in pushing Los Angeles toward the NBA title.

To win today, Kobe Bryant said, his team has to step up to Boston’s physical play.

“It’s not us being something that we’re not, but it’s just matching up with their energy and their intensity,” said Bryant, who needs 48 points to pass Jerry West to become the team’s all-time leading scorer. “Especially playing in Boston, where you have to really step up to the challenge and meet their physicality and meet the energy.”

Bryant takes heat

Bryant got more heat Saturday from the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence regarding his Nike advertisement that has a reference to use of a gun.

Bryant said Friday night the ad in which he and LeBron James appear under the slogan, “Prepare For Combat,” was done months ago, but that it was “inappropriate.”

Bryant was quoted in the ad as saying, “I’ll do whatever it takes to win games. I don’t leave anything in the chamber.”

The NBA, which suspended Wizards guards Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton last week for the rest of the season for bringing guns into the locker room, also said Bryant’s Nike ad that ran in several sports publications was inappropriate.

“While I know Nike won’t get suspended for the season by the NBA, I hope the league will let them know that this advertisement is both off message and badly timed,” said Paul Helmke, the Brady group’s president. “We need to drop the gun glorification in pro basketball, and that especially applies to million-dollar ad campaigns.”

James Brady was among those shot by John Hinckley in 1981 during an assassination attempt on President Reagan. Brady suffered severe head wounds.

Injury update

Bryant said the left ankle that he tweaked Friday night in Philadelphia was “sore” Saturday, but he will play against the Celtics. Bryant said his fractured right index finger still is swollen but that “compared to before, it’s 80% better. That’s an improvement.”