The NBA's two marquee franchises renew their storied rivalry Sunday afternoon when the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers play host to the Boston Celtics in a rematch of last year's NBA Finals.
The Lakers and Celtics have combined to win more than half of the NBA's total championships and the clubs have met in the The Finals on 12 different occasions, including two of the past three seasons.
Currently, Boston is on top of the Eastern Conference at 35-11, while the Lakers are the second seed in the West at 33-14, seven games south of San Antonio, which possesses the NBA's best record.
The Lakers, who defeated Boston in an epic seven-game series last season to win their 16th NBA crown and deny the Celtics their 18th, fell to 1-1 on a five-game homestand Friday when emerging rookie DeMarcus Cousins had 27 points and 10 rebounds to help the Sacramento Kings earn a 100-95 win over the champs.
Kobe Bryant had 38 points and moved into eighth-place on the NBA's all-time scoring list, passing legendary ex-Houston star Hakeem Olajuwon. Bryant now has 26,972 points and needs just 342 to move past "The Big E" Elvin Hayes for seventh place.
Shannon Brown scored 17 points and Andrew Bynum added 12 points for the Lakers, who are just 3-3 in their past six games and had a seven-game home winning streak snapped.
"Their big guys came out and took it to our big guys," said Los Angeles head coach Phil Jackson. "We played good defense in the fourth quarter, but that was the only quarter."
The Celtics, perhaps looking ahead, fell to 1-1 on a four-game western road trip in Phoenix on Friday when Marcin Gortat had a career-high 19 points and grabbed 17 rebounds off the bench, leading the Suns to an 88-71 victory.
Kevin Garnett scored 18 points for Boston before he was ejected late in the fourth quarter following an altercation with Suns forward Channing Frye. Surging forward to contest a shot, Garnett reached his right hand out and tapped Frye in the groin area -- a move that appeared deliberate in replays.
Paul Pierce was the only Boston scorer besides Garnett to finish in double- digits, adding 14 points as the Celtics had a two-game winning streak snapped.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers was also ejected from the game after receiving back-to-back technical fouls in the second quarter. Rivers was given an initial technical for arguing, and referee Steve Javie whistled him for a second after Rivers applauded sarcastically.
"We were sloppy," Rivers said. "I thought the Suns played hard. We didn't play well. We kind of got away from our game plan."
Ever the antagonist, Garnett reportedly plans to wear a special pair of green, suede-covered shoes with "152-120" embroidered on the tongue, the Celtics' overall winning record against the Lakers.
Boston also added fuel to the rivalry by adding former Laker superstar Shaquille O'Neal in the offseason. The veteran center, of course, teamed with Bryant to win three NBA championships in LA but the two have feuded personally over the years.
"I don't think it's too weird," Bryant said of O'Neal playing with the C's. "I don't really hold too much significance to the fact that he's playing with the Celtics. I don't think Lakers fans as a whole are. I don't think it's that big of a deal."
Boston snapped a three-game regular season skid to the Lakers in LA last season.