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NBA hopes Celtics-Lakers rivalry can respark the fans

But current finals lacks superstar matchup of Bird vs. Magic.

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Dunk: Kevin Garnett and the Celtics lead L.A. 2-0.

Adam Hunger/Reuters

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With the return of pro basketball's most storied rivalry in the finals, the National Basketball Association has big hopes for a rebound in fans.

Last year, the league bounced from a controversy-filled All-Star game of celebrity excess in Las Vegas to a tepid San Antonio-Cleveland championship round to a summer filled with a disgraced NBA referee's guilty plea in a gambling scandal. Fast-forward to the NBA's recent run, a remarkable turnaround that began when Commissioner David Stern celebrated the league's humanitarian efforts during an All-Star weekend in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. It was followed by exciting playoff runs featuring, among others, the resurgent Hornets and capped by a Celtics-Lakers that continues with Game 3 Tuesday night in Los Angeles. Boston leads the series 2-0.

"I just think it's great for the league," former Celtics great Larry Bird said during a recent NBA teleconference with former Lakers rival Magic Johnson to promote the renewed battle. "It's great for basketball."

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