After 3-3 road trip, Lakers ready for test against Celtics

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum tries to block a fadeaway shot by Lakers forward LeBron James.
All-Star forward Jayson Tatum and the Celtics will try to block LeBron James and the Lakers from starting a winning streak when the teams play Tuesday night at Arena.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Over the course of 11 days, the Lakers traversed the county to play, at times, inspiring and other times harrowing games in Milwaukee, Washington, Cleveland, Toronto, Philadelphia and Detroit.

The games were fraught not only because of tough competition but because of illness and injury the Lakers encountered during their six-game journey that ended with them holding a 3-3 record and some peace of mind on how they view themselves, even at 11-15.

Now they are back home and this challenge will test the Lakers’ fortitude that much more when they play host to the Boston Celtics at Arena on Tuesday night.

This game is more than just the Lakers meeting a Celtic team with the best record in the NBA and that has two of the league’s dynamic stars in Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

This game also is about a storied rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics. It’s about hatred — and respect. It’s about the Lakers and Celtics sharing the league record for the most championships with 17 each.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham is well aware of the rivalry. He recalled growing up in Saginaw, Mich., and being a Detroit Pistons fan first and a Magic Johnson/Lakers fan second — he rooted for L.A. to beat Boston all the time.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis combine for 69 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists while Austin Reaves makes a clutch three-pointer to close road trip 3-3.

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“I know a lot of it, man,” Ham said Sunday night after the Lakers beat the Pistons. “But I’m from Michigan, man. PistonLand. We hated both of those teams. We hated the Lakers and the Celtics and the Bulls — just to throw that out there. But Magic was always our hero.

“So, if the Pistons weren’t able to do the job and they were no longer in contention, we had to shift our focus over to Earvin and the job he was doing with the L.A. Lakers. But I already know it’s a long, storied rivalry. And I feel thankful and blessed to be a part of it.”

The Lakers arrived in Los Angeles from Detroit in the wee hours of Monday.

They had their best win of the season against the Bucks to start the trip and rebounded from a tough loss to the 76ers with a victory over the stubborn Pistons.

The Celtics will be playing a back-to-back set after taking on the Clippers on Monday night at Arena.

“I love it, man. I’m a huge believer in those types of games,” Ham said. “The league is filled with a bunch of fun, interesting matchups. Tough matchups. I like playing the best. Like the game against Milwaukee or the game against Philly the other night. And no disrespect to any other team, but those teams that are at the so-called ‘top of the food chain.’ You get to see where you are and how you compete. We’ve seen those teams and we’ve competed at a high, high level whenever we’ve seen a team like that, that’s in contention, that’s being promoted as a possible NBA champion. So, we look forward to the challenge and we’ll be prepared.”

The Lakers will play against a Celtics team that leads the NBA in scoring (120.3) and three-point shooting (39.7%), and is third in field-goal percentage (49.1%), entering Monday night’s games.

Darvin Ham took a stray bullet to the face, witnessed the crack epidemic turn Saginaw bloody and dealt with PTSD on his way to an unlikely NBA career.

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Tatum is in the MVP conversations because he’s tied for fourth in the league in scoring (30.0) and is shooting 47.2% from the field while averaging 8.1 rebounds and four assists. Brown is 12th in scoring (26.8) and he’s shooting 50.1% from the field and averaging 7.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

Anthony Davis called Sunday’s win over Detroit a must-win game with Boston next on the Lakers schedule.

“That’s why it was a must-win for us, to get this win feeling good about ourselves going into a big game back at home,” he said Sunday night. “So, we feel like we can beat anyone. We’re playing really good defensively, offense is clicking. So, we expect that to be a good game for us.”

After the wins over the Bucks and Wizards, Davis began to suffer from flu-like symptoms against Cleveland and had to call it a night after just eight minutes. The Lakers lost that game and again in Toronto the next night while Davis recovered from his illness and LeBron James sat out because of left ankle soreness.

James and Davis returned for the game at Philadelphia, but the Lakers lost in overtime after a stirring comeback in which Davis had a chance to put the Lakers up late but missed the second of two free throws.

They deemed the trip successful after ending the three-game losing streak in Detroit.

“I thought we played great basketball at times,” Davis said. “I thought we could have played better at times. But for the majority of the trip, I thought we played the way we want to play and I’m happy with the way we were able to come out [Sunday], and the hardest game on a six-game road trip is always the last one. Because you’ll be looking forward to getting back to your own bed, getting back to your own rhythm, getting back to your own place.

“So, for us to come out and play the way we played [Sunday] was huge. We got to try to get as much rest as we can starting from now all the way to Tuesday night because we’re going to need it because a very good team is coming into our building. But I like the way we ended the trip.”