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Thursday, May 5, 2011
Out with the old, in with the new?

By Sarah Spain

The Boston Celtics, 2008 NBA champions and 2010 runners-up, are down 2-0 to the Miami Heat, and when their series resumes in Boston on Friday, they'll have to fight their way out of a big hole to stay alive. The two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers lost their second straight at home to the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday, and the Mavericks can sweep the series with back-to-back wins on their home court Friday and Sunday.

For the last few years, the Celtics and the Lakers have been the teams to beat in their respective conferences. Led by 13-time All-Star Kobe Bryant and 11-time NBA Champion coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers were to the 2000s what Jackson's Chicago Bulls were to the 90s. On the rare occasions that Kobe and company were beaten -- or at least pushed to the brink -- it always seemed to be the Celtics doing to the beating and pushing. Recent years haven't afforded Boston as much hardware as L.A., but the team repped by four players in this year's All-Star game has at least been in the running for the ring ever since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in 2007.

Consider this: The Spurs had the best record in the West during the regular season, but all signs still pointed to the Lakers as the front-runners when the postseason began. Three of the game's biggest names gathered to form a terrifying trio down in South Beach, yet many resisted picking the Heat over the Celtics as the favorite in the East. It's not too tough to back proven teams, even when they're slumping, but when those slumps result in early elimination, it may be time to give your faith to new teams. If the Lakers and the Celtics both fail to advance to the conference finals, will this season mark a changing of the guard in the NBA?

When it comes to the Celtics, it isn't too tough to see why their success may soon come to an end. Paul Pierce is 33, Garnett 34, Allen 35. Boston's Big Three have looked tired against the NBA's new Big Three, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Some believe the Celtics' experience will get them back into their series with Miami, but at some point the term "experienced" is just a euphemism given to a team that's past its prime. Look at Shaquille O'Neal -- the 39-year-old center has plenty of experience, winning four NBA Championships and playing in 214 playoff games, but he's been little use to the Celtics this year, as his injury-plagued body continues to fail him.

As for the Lakers, the end of their reign may have nothing at all to do with the guys who suit up every day. At 32, Bryant is one of the elder statesman on the team, supported by teammates with energy and fresh, young legs. Even if the current roster stays mostly intact for a few more years, they may lose the only guy who rivals Bryant as team MVP. If Jackson sticks to his plan and retires after this year, it's not a stretch to believe his departure may spell the end of the team's dominance.

There's still time for these powerhouse franchises to put up a fight. Still time for the Lakers to steal both games in Dallas and go back to L.A. with all the momentum. Still time for the Celtics to prove the old adage, "A series doesn't start until a team wins on the road."

But if these two teams don't find a way to turn things around, there are some fresh young squads hoping to take the throne, and start a dynasty of their own.