Lakers and Celtics renew league's greatest rivalry

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The National Basketball Association's most alluring rivalry will take center stage on Thursday when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Boston Celtics in the opening game of the NBA Finals.

"I don't give a damn about it," the four-times NBA champion told reporters. "That's for other people to get excited about. I get excited about winning."

Both the Lakers and Celtics admit they wanted to face each other in the finals, a rematch of 2008 when Boston clinched the series with a 39-point victory in Game Six.

"The Celtics and Lakers mean more to each guy because of the history -- even the young guys know the history," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "You feel like when you're a Celtic, you want to defend the Celtics, and when you're a Laker, you want to defend the Lakers."

While the Lakers appeared the team to beat in the Western Conference all season, Boston limped home with a 27-27 record in the East and looked to be a longshot to reach the finals.

But Rivers' game plan was to have his team healthy for the playoffs and the suddenly chipper Celtics responded with dominating victories over Miami, Cleveland and Orlando.

Though some of Boston's reserve players have changed from 2008, the nucleus of the team remains Los Angeles native Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

"I want to play against LA, I want to go there and try to win the championship in my hometown," said Pierce, who is averaging a team-leading 19.1 points in the playoffs.

"It's the rivalry, period, the motivation of being in the championship. I can pretty much put all the things that's motivational for the series in a hat and just pick one."

The Lakers insist they are a more mature team than they were in their loss to the Celtics two years ago.

"Experience," said veteran guard Derek Fisher. "Our mind-set as a team is different, for the better. We've learned more about what it takes to be the best."

The first two games are in Los Angeles before the best-of-seven series shifts to Boston, where the Celtics hope to raise their record 18th championship banner.

Boston has a 9-2 edge versus the Lakers in the finals.

(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Frank Pingue)