Celtics forward Paul Pierce looks to pass after driving against Clippers… (Steven Senne / Associated…)
With Pau Gasol out with a foot injury and Dwight Howard a question mark with his shoulder, the Lakers (23-26) will have a real challenge when they visit the Boston Celtics (25-23) on Thursday night.
The Celtics have won their last five games, including a 99-95 victory on Wednesday in Toronto over the Raptors. Boston recently lost both Rajon Rondo (knee) and Jared Sullinger (back) for the season, but the Celtics have a deep roster.
The Lakers have been playing some of their best basketball, winning three straight on the road and six of their last seven.
A win in Boston would be an achievement for the wounded Lakers.
The Lakers signed Metta World Peace to help the team battle bigger small forwards like Paul Pierce. It's always a physical matchup when they go against each other.
Pierce is averaging 18.5 points a game for the Celtics this season. With Rondo and Sullinger out, he's picked up his playmaking and rebounding significantly.
World Peace's offense comes and goes but if he can hold Pierce below his averages, he'll help put the Lakers in a position to win.
The big question for the Lakers is center but the Celtics play "small" at the five with Kevin Garnett. Garnett certainly isn't short at 6-11 but he's played power forward through most of his career (originally coming into the league at the three).
The Lakers keep turning to Earl Clark and he's been relatively consistent. Robert Sacre may start at center against Garnett (if Howard isn't able) but the X-factor for the Lakers against Boston is Clark.
A strength for the Celtics is their platoon of guards with Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley, Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa. Both Lee and Bradley are accomplished defenders.
The Lakers usually bring their best game to Boston but with the Gasol injury, they have a serious challenge ahead.
With Pau Gasol injured, what's next for the Lakers?
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Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.