It's not yet back to the days when the Sixers and the Boston Celtics battled it out in the Eastern Conference for the right to play the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, but all three franchises appear on the way back to their status as traditional powers.

Considering the low expectations for the young Lakers coming into the season, their taking a .500 record into Boston (8 tonight on ESPN) is one of the surprises of the early schedule. Los Angeles had the No. 2 overall pick in the last two drafts, behind the Sixers, and looks as if it has two nice building blocks in 20-year-olds Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball.

After revamping their roster with the trade for All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and the addition of All-Star forward Gordon Hayward, the Celtics figured to take some time to pull things together. Even though Hayward was seriously injured minutes into the season, Boston needed just two games.

With Irving playing like an early MVP candidate and youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum, the third picks in the last two drafts, finding their way, Boston has won nine straight after losing its first two games – that's the second-longest win streak after a 0-2 start in league history.

It's not likely that Sixers or Celtics fans are going to be cheering "Beat L.A." at the end of this season's conference finals, but it might not be too long.

Toledo must win to keep hope to play on New Year’s Day

The college football world revolves around the College Football Playoff rankings. Almost all interest is in the top 4, but there is another subplot.

The highest-ranked conference champion from the Group of Five – i.e. mid-majors – gets an automatic berth into a New Year's 6 bowl. When Toledo plays at Ohio at 8 on ESPN2, hope for an NY6 bowl is at stake.

Toledo (8-1, 5-0)  is undefeated in the Mid-American Conference and has a shot to earn the bid, but the Rockets likely have to win their final three games to stay in contention.

No.18 and undefeated Central Florida of the American Athlete Conference is the only Group of Five team in the CFP rankings.

Still, a slip-up in any of their last three games could bump the Knights from qualifying for the AAC championship game and eliminate them for the NY6 bid regardless of ranking.

Toledo needs to stay in position to capitalize on that possibility.

What I’m reading

Roy Halladay's time with the Phillies wasn't long and it came after the zenith of the franchise's World Series run, but columnist Marcus Hayes writes about what an impression he left in this town in such a short time.

The Sixers' sitting out Joel Embiid against Utah on Tuesday because of "load management" wasn't funny, but columnist Bob Ford's take on it certainly is.

Roy Halladay pitched the bulk of his career for the Toronto Blue Jays, so it's not surprising that several Flyers grew up fans of him. Staff writer Sam Carchidi gets reaction to the passing of the two-time Cy Young winner.

Duce Staley earned his respect as a running back for the Eagles and then in his current role as running backs coach. Staff writer Paul Domowitch says Staley was key to the Birds' trading for running back Jay Ajayi.

Lavar Ball said if you can't afford it, you ain't Big Ball Brand, but after being arrested in China for shoplifting with two other UCLA freshmen, middle son LiAngelo is in serious trouble that his dad's big mouth can't simply talk away.

Despite Jahlil Okafor's giving a pathetic, three-fouls-in-three-minutes, half-hearted effort Tuesday against Utah, staff writer Keith Pompey reports the Phoenix Suns could have interest in the disgruntled and unwanted Sixer.

The riff

Sometimes, a picture says more than 150 words.

Tonight’s schedule


Bruins at Rangers, 8 p.m. (NBCSN)
Lightning at Sharks, 10:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

Lakers at Celtics, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Timberwolves at Warriors, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)

College Football
Toledo at Ohio, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)

Golf on Golf Channel
LPGA: Blue Bay, 11 p.m.