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Top Secret Fyles: NBA’s big-market franchises stumble badly

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From the drawers of the Top Secret Fyles:

The glitter of stardom can fade in an instant.

Just look at the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and New York Knicks of the NBA.

The Lakers and the Celtics played for the championship less than four years ago, and now both franchises are trying to dig their way out of the doldrums.

Entering Monday night, both the Celtics (20-40) and Lakers (20-39) had nearly identical records, stood in fourth place in their respective divisions and have no shot to make the playoffs.

The Celtics trail eighth-place Atlanta (26-32) by seven games in the Eastern Conference standings for the final playoff spot.

The Lakers, who recently broke a franchise-record, eight-game home losing streak — ironically enough — against the Celtics, are playing out the string. They are a whopping 15 games behind eighth-place Dallas (36-25) with one-quarter of the regular season remaining.

This season would mark the first time in 65 seasons that both former elite franchises would miss the playoffs in the same season. The other occurrence was in 1994 — just after Boston’s Larry Bird had retired and L.A.’s Magic Johnson was past his prime.

The Knicks (21-39), on the other hand, are a whole different story.

After a promising 10-6 mark in January to give a legitimate hope for the playoffs, the team has stumbled badly in the past few weeks, losing six straight games and 17 of the past 23.

The Knicks are getting booed on a regular basis at Madison Square Garden, where their home mark is 12-20, and this season’s follies, involving J.R. Smith (shoe incident) and Raymond Felton (gun charges), have turned the club into the league’s laughingstock. The Knicks have a difficult, five-game West Coast trip on tap later this month, and that’s not going to help playoff chances.

At least the Celtics — thanks to the accumulation of draft picks thanks to the offseason deal of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets — and the Lakers —they are clearing up cap space for next season perhaps to make a significant signing over the summer — have an idea to get out of their quandaries.

The Knicks, meanwhile, have no team unity, can’t play defense and may lose high-scoring forward Carmelo Anthony to free agency after the season depending how the next few weeks go. However, the former Syracuse University star says he wants to remain in New York.

All three franchises figure to get a high pick in June’s NBA draft and should get a hot-shot player who can give hope for the future. NBA experts say this year’s draft features the best accumulation of talent in nearly 30 years, depending on the number of star underclassmen collegiate players who declare.

Richie Rich’s Top 10 in College Basketball: 1. Wichita State; 2. Florida; 3. Arizona; 4. Duke; 5. Villanova; 6. Virginia; 7. Syracuse; 8. Wisconsin; 9. San Diego State; 10. Louisville.

Times sports copy editor Richard Fyle can be reached at rfyle@wdt.net

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