Reporting from Boston -- It used to be the game of the season. Now it's only for the seasoned few.
The teams that played for the NBA title less than two years ago are now 14-11 (Lakers) and 14-10 (Celtics).
It's difficult to handicap who has endured the worst season so far.
The Celtics started 3-8 and team executive Danny Ainge suggested their Big Three were on the trading block. Only recently have they turned it around, winning nine of their last 10 games.
The Lakers were staggering before they even played their first exhibition game. Pau Gasol hasn't been the same since being ticketed for Houston in the quashed Chris Paul trade. Kobe Bryant has mostly been excellent but sometimes erratic, including one-for-10 accuracy in the fourth quarter of a 95-90 loss Monday in Philadelphia.
Often an optimist, Bryant still believes in the Lakers-Celtics rivalry.
"When we match up, it's always going to be entertaining, it's always going to be physical, it's always going to be a grind," he said. "That's a true rivalry."
He's right about the grind part. The Lakers are 20th in the league in scoring, the Celtics 25th.
"We're both not necessarily young," Bryant said. "We've been around the block. Twice."
The Lakers are finally getting some help at point guard. It's from their own roster.
Steve Blake is expected to play against Boston after sitting out 13 games because of a rib injury. He took part in a full practice Wednesday and reported no pain.
"Had a fun time," he said. "I'm feeling pretty good."
Blake will wear a protective vest and what he described as a "bubble pad" on the left side of his chest to shield damaged cartilage in his rib area.
Blake was averaging 7.3 points and 24.3 minutes. Rookie Andrew Goudelock gave the Lakers a boost at point guard in recent games and could play alongside Blake on the second unit.
"You've got two guys on the floor that can handle the basketball, that can shoot the ball, that are aggressive offensively," Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. "Hopefully, that continues to help your bench."
In that alignment, Blake would cover shooting guards on defense and Goudelock would defend the opposing point guard.
Sign him up
No matter what happens between now and July, Bryant said he would "definitely" play in the Olympics.
"I'm not going to let Pau get a free run at getting a gold medal," he said.
Bryant and Team USA beat Spain and Gasol in the gold-medal game of the 2008 Olympics.