L.A., Boston climb back to top

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Right now, pick your winner: Will it be the Celtics or the Lakers?

At the quarter pole of the NBA season, L.A. and Boston have climbed back to the top of the heap. The Lakers have benefitted from the presence of Ron Artest The Player and the absence of Artest The Personality, and they boast one of the most dynamic frontcourt duos in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Boston has Kevin Garnett playing like the KG of old, Kendrick Perkins playing at never-before-seen levels and a host of veterans starved for one more shot at a ring.

So ... who you got?

A handful of scouts, executives and players voted overwhelmingly in favor of L.A. "They can score with anyone and, this year, they can defend everyone," said a Western Conference exec. "I don't know how you win four out of seven against them." When a p.r. rep informed members of the media that Kobe Bryant suffered a small fracture in his right index finger last Friday, a scout within earshot asked if he would be sidelined for "three years."

We are six months away from a potential Boston-L.A. matchup. Six months for Orlando, San Antonio, Cleveland and Denver to make statements, six months for Atlanta to mature and six months for Bynum to blow out another knee. But until that happens, it's the Lakers and Celtics - again -- riding high at the top.

(All stats and records are through Dec. 13.)

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