All eyes on Allen as depleted Celtics face two top title contenders
Ray Allen is two three-pointers away from breaking Reggie Miller's all-time record
The Celtics lack healthy big men, and Marquis Daniels' injury hurts them on wing
Lakers and Heat will pose match problems for Boston in the next two games
BOSTON -- The brightest of all NBA stages is here for Ray Allen, and do the Celtics ever need him right now.
On Thursday, the supersized Lakers of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum return to Boston, seeking to prove they can beat a title contender. But the Celtics likely will have trouble matching up in the frontcourtwon't be able to respond up front because all of their backup big men -- Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal and rookie 7-footer Semih Erden -- are injured.
Boston's long championship-preview weekend concludes Sunday afternoon with a visit by the Heat, who will find the Celtics are not fully equipped to deal with LeBron James. The frightening bruised spinal cord suffered last weekend by Marquis Daniels has left Boston without a backup at small forward.
"When Paul [Pierce, the Celtics' starting small forward] goes out, someone's going to have to guard LeBron,'' coach Doc Rivers after practice Wednesday. "And we don't have that someone. So that means we're going to have to start trapping. ... I've been here seven years and you've seen me trap probably 10 times.
"But we are going to have to start trapping, which weakens your defense. I hate it. But we worked on it today, and we're going to work on it every day until we get another 3."
Enter Allen, who needs two conversions to surpass Reggie Miller (who will be announcing the Lakers-Celtics game courtside for TNT) as the all-time leader in three-pointers. Allen has always been crucial to Boston, and his role will be emphasized not only because of his imminent achievement but also because his team needs extra help.
"It depends on whatever we can get away with," Rivers said of filling in for Daniels, who is expected to be sidelined for at least one month. "We can go with two smalls, with Ray at the 3, but it puts us in a terrible spot. Going into the year, that was the area of concern because we knew we were one injury away from being very thin. And unfortunately it happened."
The Lakers will feel no sympathy. They've been notoriously ineffective against the best opponents -- a trend extended by the Celtics' 109-96 victory Jan. 30 in L.A. -- and they need to exploit Boston's weaknesses. The Lakers will surely attempt to overwhelm center Kendrick Perkins, who has averaged 26.4 minutes since returning from the knee injury that sidelined him since Game 7 of the Finals last June.
Yet, the Lakers' own center has been confronted by rumors of a potential trade. Will Bynum be moved to Denver for Carmelo Anthony? The Lakers have shot the notion -- "I haven't given it a second thought," coach Phil Jackson insisted -- perhaps because Anthony would force them to take on a new style of play as he and his friend Kobe Bryant learned to share the ball. Maybe they truly value the unassailable size advantage they have in Bynum, Gasol and Odom. Maybe the Nuggets aren't sold on the potential of Bynum, who is guaranteed $31 million over the next two years and has been blighted by knee injuries.
Much is in flux this weekend, and the results of Boston's games against the Lakers and Miami will be hard to gauge as we look ahead to the possibility of the Celtics meeting the Heat in the conference finals before rekindling their NBA Finals rivalry with L.A. One thing the Celtics understand is that both the Lakers and Heat (who are 0-2 vs. Boston this season) would enjoy punishing them, even as Allen's career is being celebrated by his record achievement.
Rivers is in favor of being done with Allen's record sooner than later.
"My suggestion is to allow him to have two open shots, just to get it over with," he said. "Either that, or to give him a game-winning, wide-open [three]. I would take either option."