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NBA: Lakers, Celtics rivalry resumes today

Associated Press
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. ó The NBA finals seemed to go on forever last summer, stretching through seven games over two weeks until the exhausted Los Angeles Lakers finally edged the injury-depleted Boston Celtics with their last gasp in the final quarter.
After seven months to recover, the rivals finally are ready to go at each other again.
When they meet today on the same Staples Center court where the Lakers won their 16th title and denied the Celtics their 18th, their epic shared history always looms in the background. Theyíve won more than half of the NBAís total championships and met in 12 NBA finals, including two of the past three.
The franchisesí generational animosity has been rekindled, as anybody could tell last June. Just donít expect them to acknowledge it in late January.
ěPlaying them doesnít really bring up anything extra,î Lakers point guard Derek Fisher shrug.
Yet the unfriendliness of this rivalry manifests itself in weird, subtle ways: According to a widespread Internet rumor backed up by photos from the manufacturer, Kevin Garnett is expected to wear a special pair of green, suede-covered shoes with ě152-120î embroidered on the tongue.
Thatís the Celticsí overall winning record against the Lakers.
Boston added another spicy element to the rivalry in the offseason by signing Shaquille OíNeal, who won three titles and the NBA finals MVP awards in Los Angeles. Yet the Celticsí 38-year-old backup center is hardly the biggest concern for the Lakers ó not with both teams struggling to stay consistent during the grind leading up to the All-Star break.
Both are coming off embarrassing losses Friday night. The Lakers played horribly at home against lowly Sacramento, while Garnett and Celtics coach Doc Rivers were ejected while Boston scored a season-low 71 points in Phoenix.
Fisher doesnít see OíNealís decision to sign with the Celtics as a betrayal of anything they accomplished with Bryant a decade ago, largely because Boston wasnít those Lakersí biggest rival. The Celtics missed the playoffs during the Lakersí title runs in 2000 and 2001.
ěThe years we were here, the Celticsí mystique wasnít really where it has got back to,î Fisher said. ěWe basically played them once every nine months, and that was the extent of the rivalry.î
OíNeal and Bryant appear to be on friendly terms now, the jealousies of the past decade largely ignored publicly ó aside from an occasional sarcastic comment. When asked after Game 7 what a fifth title meant to him, Bryant immediately noted he has one more ring than Shaq.
Although OíNealís No. 34 jersey is likely to hang alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbarís No. 33 and Wilt Chamberlainís No. 13 in the Staples Center rafters, the Lakers donít begrudge him returning in green.
ěI donít think itís too weird,î Bryant said. ěI donít really hold too much significance to the fact that heís playing with the Celtics. I donít think Lakers fans as a whole are. I donít think itís that big of a deal.î

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