Vogel/Stevens relationship among the many storylines for this year's Celtics/Lakers battle

Jayson Tatum and Dwight Howard get after it when the Celtics and Lakers renewed their rivalry Monday night at TD Garden. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

BOSTON — The last time the Los Angeles Lakers came into Boston, guard Rajon Rondo sent his former team home at the buzzer by swishing a last-second elbow jumper for L.A. 

Since then, the makeup of both historic franchises has changed dramatically: The Celtics replaced Kyrie Irving with Kemba Walker and Al Horford with Enes Kanter. The Lakers acquired Anthony Davis in exchange for three of their most talented young players (Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart) and have surrounded LeBron James and AD with a deeper, more experienced and more capable core. 

With that said, one thing about Monday's matchup between the two NBA staples remains the same: The rivalry.

Regardless of records — this time around the Celtics came in at fourth in the East with a 27-14 record, the Lakers first in the West at 34-8 — you can always expect a fiery battle when the longtime foes hit the hardwood. Every year there's a slew of new storylines, too, with 2020 bringing about a lot to be desired from two good teams.  

Here's a look at some of the more intriguing ones from this year's highly anticipated bout at TD Garden. After all, barring any drastic trades from either side prior to the February 6 deadline, next month's rematch at Staples Center will look extremely similar. 

Lakers size/athleticism advantage on both ends 

The Lakers currently start three guys 6-foot-9 or taller: James (6-9), Davis (6-10) and Javale McGee (7-feet). Rejuvenated journeyman Dwight Howard (6-11) comes off the bench and has been extremely efficient in his role as well. The Celtics counter down low with Daniel Theis (6-foot-8) and Enes Kanter (6-foot-11), neither of whom are known for their speed or athleticism. The mismatches in the paint could prove deadly, but the Celtics' should be able to make up for it in other areas of the court. 

"The size without losing the agility," Celtics' coach Brad Stevens said prior to Monday's game when asked what stands out most about the Lakers.

"A lot of teams that have size can't move like (the Lakers do)."

Collection of notable former Celtics' now with Lakers

Rondo obviously made his presence felt in last year's 129-128 victory over Boston and he's back in a Lakers uniform again this year. But he isn't the only one. 

Former Beantown fan favorite Avery Bradley is now donning the Purple and Gold, as is Lakers' head coach Frank Vogel (figuratively speaking). Vogel got his NBA coaching career started in Boston as an assistant back in the early 2000s, and he has a great relationship with Stevens from their time in Indiana (Stevens then at Butler University and Vogel the head coach for the Indiana Pacers). 

"I'm so happy for him. He's done a great job," Stevens said of Vogel. "Every time we played in Orlando (when Vogel was the coach there from 2016-18) I'd meet with him for coffee and we'd get together. It's fun to see him land this way because he's a great coach and a better person."

The feeling was mutual for Vogel. 

"I always felt warmth coming here because I got my start here. I was here for seven years, I met my wife here, had my first daughter here in Boston," said Vogel. "This organization will always be special to me."

Nonetheless, Vogel feels right at home in L.A. now. 

"I'm happier than I've ever been in the NBA," said Vogel. 

Kemba's struggles against LeBron 

By the time most of you read this, Walker will either be 0-29 or 1-28 in games played against James. That's right, heading into Monday's tilt he had yet to beat The King at any point in his career. Sure, all of the previous matchups were when Walker was playing for Charlotte, but that's still a staggering stat when you consider the sample size and the skillset Walker brings to the table night in and night out. 

Tatum vs. Kuzma

Celtics' swingman Jayson Tatum and Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma were both drafted in 2017: Tatum at No. 3 overall, Kuzma at No. 27. Both players continue to thrive for their respective teams, and at one point there was a legitimate argument as to who was the better player and who would carve out the better career.

Right now, the edge clearly goes to Tatum who is averaging a career-best 21.3 points to go with 7.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Kuzma, while he's battled injuries this season and plays alongside two ball-dominant players in James and Davis, comes in at 13.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists. Both players have extensive offensive packages, but Tatum boasts a more complete skillset. He's also three years younger than Kuzma.

It's hard to compare the two at this point seeing how their roles on their respective teams are entirely different, but it's certainly intriguing to watch them compete against one another. 

At the half of Monday's game, Tatum had 15 points and three rebounds in 15 minutes; Kuzma had four points, three rebounds and a steal in 14 minutes. 

Unless Boston and L.A. meet in the NBA Championship in June, we'll only get to see the two teams face off once more this season. Until then, who's to say what will unfold for both historic squads as they make a push towards greatness. 

Nick Giannino can be reached at NGiannino@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.

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