BOSTON — Up until a couple of weeks ago, this Christmas clash was a bit more palatable.
The Boston Celtics would be making the cross country trip to play the Los Angeles Lakers for what would be the most eagerly anticipated regular season game since, well, the Celtics and Lakers played nationally televised games the entire 1980s.
The Lakers had won their first seven and 14 of their first 15 games. The Celtics were right there, on their heels, with only two losses.
The Lakers weren't going to be shoved around like they were last June, particularly in Boston.
But it won't be so extra special now, despite the ad nauseam marketing attempts by ABC and ESPN.
Don't blame the Celtics. They kept their end of the NBA marketing bargain. They've picked up exactly where they left off last spring. With last night's 19th straight win — a 110-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers — Boston is 27-2, officially the best start ever for an NBA franchise.
The problem is the Lakers. Despite last night's 100-87 win over New Orleans, they've reverted to their 2007-08 roots.
Center Andrew Bynum, who was supposed to give the Lakers some beef in the middle, has not picked up where he left off when he injured his knee last January. He is scoring less than he was a year ago (as of yesterday he was averaging 12.4 points per game this season vs. 13.1 last year) and his rebound totals are down (from 10.2 to 8.5) as well.
The bigger enigma is power forward Lamar Odom, who lost his starting position to another no-show during last June's NBA Finals, Luke Walton. Odom is averaging only 8.6 points and 6.3 rebounds this season, a drop from 14.2 and 10.7 last season.
Of course, Kobe is still Kobe. He has led the team in scoring in 25 of the Lakers' 28 games. He is averaging 26.1 points per game and 31 over the last seven games, including last night.