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The Celtics epitomize a selflessness that the NBA often lacks. That comes with the age of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, who have enough individual accolades to satisfy their post-NBA lives and enough wisdom to rely on each other instead of their declining athletic gifts.

The question is whether the latter will be enough to sustain them in the postseason, when the fatigue of an interminable season saps even the strongest.

In their championship season of 2007-08, the Celtics endured two seven-game series, the one against the Cavaliers that would have ended in disappointment if not for the 41-point brilliance of Pierce in Game 7.

The Celtics are holding teams to a league-low 91.2 points a game, committing to a pugnacious style of play that lends itself to postseason success. Their prospects depend on preserving their essential elements. It was the breaking down of Garnett that triggered their demise last postseason.

Yet it is the Lakers who stand alone.

That is because of Bryant, who is showing no slippage in his 14th season. If anything, Bryant is expressing a greater efficiency to his game, as the combination of his experience, athletic gifts and skill merge into a colossal package.

He is shooting a career-high 48.5 percent even as he struggles from 3-point range. And there is something about his last-second propensity, which the Bucks fell victim to Wednesday night.

One possession. One shot. Game on the line.

No one in the NBA meets that challenge better than Bryant.

That is an additional reason to like the repeat chances of the Lakers.