Lakers take heavy hearts into rivalry game with Celtics

How fitting just days after the death of Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss the rival Boston Celtics make a stop in Tinseltown.

Hearts will be heavy Wednesday night when the Lakers entertain the Celtics with the passing of Buss on their minds. Buss was at the epicenter of the Lakers' illustrious run to 10 NBA titles and succumbed to kidney failure Monday. He was 80 years old.

Buss was more than just a figurehead of the Lakers and leaves behind a winning legacy. A pioneer to the Lakers' "Showtime" days under the likes of Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Buss' era will be remembered for his dedication to winning and putting a respectable product on the floor after purchasing the Lakers in 1979.

NBA commissioner David Stern issued the following statement:

"The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come. More importantly, we have lost a dear and valued friend. Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time."

Many family members, friends, colleagues, former players and coaches focused on how instrumental Buss was in their lives, including Pat Riley. Riley won four NBA titles as Lakers head coach (1982, 85, 87, 88).

"Jerry Buss was more than just an owner. He was one of the great innovators that any sport has ever encountered," Riley said in a statement. "He was a true visionary and it was obvious with the Lakers in the 80's that 'Showtime' was more than just Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was really the vision of a man who saw something that connected with a community. I was privileged to be part of that for 10 years and even more grateful for the friendship that has lasted all these many years. I have always come to realize that if it weren't for Dr. Buss, I wouldn't be where I am today. I owe my start in professional coaching to him, and I will always hold him and his memory in the highest of regards."

The Lakers are reportedly worth about $1 billion thanks to the sacrifices Buss made and the chances he took. Buss also brought in coach Phil Jackson, who won five titles with the Lakers and three straight from 2000-02 under the popular triangle offense. Buss had the luxury of watching Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant win three championships together, then witness the latter win two on his own. He was elected into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.

Los Angeles captured 10 of its 16 NBA titles under the watchful eye of Buss, while the Celtics enter Staples Center with the most at 17.

Buss' latest eye-popping move was to acquire center Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic in a four-team deal that sent two-time NBA champion big man Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers. So far Howard hasn't meshed with Bryant and rumors are swirling he could be on the move again prior to Thursday's NBA trade deadline. It has been speculated Brooklyn could be Howard's next home.

Center Pau Gasol, who has been bothered by injury this season, has also been rumored to be on the trading block.

Championship hopes are currently few and far between for the Lakers, who are 3 1/2 games off the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and will play the third test of a four-game homestand Wednesday. The Lakers headed to the All-Star break following last Thursday's 125-101 blowout at the hands of the nearby Clippers.

Bryant, coming off a four-point showing in a win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, totaled 20 points and 11 assists in defeat. Dwight Howard and Antawn Jamison finished with 18 and 17 points, respectively, for the Lakers, who had won eight of 11 games. The Lakers trailed, 31-17, after the first 12 minutes.

"Our start was bad and they shot the ball very well," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Their 3-pointers put us in a hole. When we play out of desperation, we don't play very smart."

It didn't help that the Clippers made 16-of-30 3-pointers and scored 23 points off 16 Laker turnovers. The Lakers, who had won four in a row as the host and are 16-11 at home, will close out the stand Friday versus Portland.

Meanwhile, the Celtics opened the second half of their season with Tuesday's 97-90 loss at Denver in the opener of a five-game western trek.

Jeff Green led the way with 20 points in a reserve role, while Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee finished with 17 and 15 points, respectively, for Boston, which entered the All-Star break winners in eight of nine games. Kevin Garnett, another target of trade rumors, had 12 points and nine rebounds and Paul Pierce posted 10 points, six boards and six assists in a losing cause.

"We got stagnant with ball movement," Pierce said. "A little too much one-on- one."

Boston is 0-6 on the road against Western Conference opponents this season and 8-16 as the visitor.

Celtics managing partner, governor & chief executive officer Wyc Grousbeck released a statement on the unfortunate passing of Lakers beloved owner Buss.

"I had the pleasure of working with Jerry closely for the last 10 years on league matters. He was a wonderful business colleague, brilliant competitor and became a good friend. Although our teams competed in two Finals during that time, the friendship never wavered. He will be greatly missed and the entire Celtics organization offers condolences to the Buss family and Lakers organization."

The Celtics and Lakers have met 12 times in the NBA Finals, 11 of which the Lakers resided in L.A. Minneapolis and Boston squared off in the 1958-59 Finals, won by the Celtics in four straight games.

Boston, which will also visit Phoenix, Portland and Utah on the swing, recently handed the Lakers a 116-95 loss in Beantown on Feb. 7 as Pierce led the way in that one with 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Bryant netted 27 points for the Lakers, who have still won nine of the last 14 meetings in this series.