BOSTON — Seven months after defeating the Boston Celtics for the NBA championship, the Lakers are back in Boston Garden to play them again, this time in a regular-season game.
But they're here without Kurt Rambis, who has missed the last three Laker games because of a sprained left ankle. And perhaps more than in any of those games, his absence will be felt here tonight (5 p.m., PST).
Most likely, Maurice Lucas will feel it most, but A.C. Green, James Worthy and maybe Larry Spriggs will feel it, too. The Celtic front line will make sure that all of the players subbing for Rambis get bumped around so much that they will feel really bad about Rambis' not being here.
"Boston's front line is their strength," Laker Coach Pat Riley said. "It won't be any any different this time."
For the Lakers, it will be slightly different, however. Lucas once again will start in place of Rambis at power forward.
Rambis ran 1 1/2 miles this week near his home in Manhattan Beach and reported no pain in his left ankle, which has been giving him problems for about a month.
Rambis is diagnosed as having inflamed ligaments, and although Laker team doctors said his running without pain is good news, they also pointed out that running does not cause the same kind of stress Rambis puts on his foot during games, and advised keeping him out of games until they believe he is completely healed.
Until then, Lucas will be Rambis' primary replacement. After a shaky beginning against the Clippers, Lucas came back with 15 points and 12 rebounds in his last Laker games.
"I've been kind of rushing my shots and have wound up missing some that I shouldn't have," Lucas said. "But I know we've got guys who are capable of replacing people like Kurt when they're injured. It's just a matter of going out and doing it."
One thing the absence of Rambis has done is to shed a little more light on the Lakers' depth, which may not be as formidable as they once thought.
In the defeat at Detroit as well as in the victory at Chicago, Laker nonstarters were a little shaky. Even before Rambis got hurt, Laker substitutes had been inconsistent in their ability to hold leads.
"We're supposed to be the deepest team in the league," Riley said. "If we're so damned good, let's show it."
He may find out tonight. The game against the Celtics ought to give the Lakers a pretty good indication of how deep they really are and how much they really miss Rambis.
Laker Notes The Celtics aren't completely healthy, either. Forward Kevin McHale has a sore left Achilles heel. McHale has scored more than 20 points in 14 of his last 15 games. Backup center Bill Walton is troubled by recurring back spasms. Rookie guard Sam Vincent, who hasn't played for three games because of a bruised kneecap, should be available, however. . . . Once again, Magic Johnson is talking about retiring. The fast-break pace of the Lakers has aged him, said Johnson, who at 26, is in his seventh season. "Feels more like 15," he said. "I think about five more years ought to do it. Anyone who watches our style knows how much it can take out of you." Johnson mentioned last season that he might not be able to play the length of his contract, which runs through the 1993-94 season. . . . Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's jersey No. 33, stolen Monday in Chicago, is still missing. The Lakers filed a report with the Chicago police department and valued Abdul-Jabbar's jersey at $1,500. Why so much? Last season the Lakers donated another of his jerseys to a school fund-raiser, which was supposed to sell it for that much. It went for $2,000 instead.