By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Celtics | Madison Square Garden
When: Sunday | 12:00 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (5-13): All of a sudden, the Knicks are rolling. After losing nine straight games, the team has come together to win its last two in convincing fashion, dismantling the Nets in Brooklyn on Thursday and then beating Orlando by 38 on Friday night at the Garden. The ball is moving (49 assists in the last two games) and it's finding open shooters who are knocking down 3-pointers. They've recaptured a style of play that led them to 54 wins a season ago, and as their schedule softens up, today is another opportunity to make up ground in the Atlantic Division.
Boston (9-12): These are not the same Celtics that took the Knicks to six games in the first round of last year's playoffs. It's a new era in Boston; gone are Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, as is former coach Doc Rivers, who has been replaced by former Butler University coach Brad Stevens. But despite the losses off the court and the absence of point guard Rajon Rondo while he recovers from a torn ACL, the on-court product has surpassed many expectations. They might be looking ahead to a loaded draft class, but today they sit atop the Atlantic Division, thanks to the play of afterthoughts like Jordan Crawford, Jared Sullinger and Kris Humphries.
The Numbers Game
Seven Knicks reached double figures in scoring on Friday against the Magic; the last time that happened was November 5, 2012 at Philadelphia.
Matchup to Watch
Raymond Felton vs. Avery Bradley
The Celtics' strategy in last year's playoff series was to stay glued to shooters, even at the expense of helping on penetration. That left Felton free to create off the dribble, and he responded by averaging 17 points over the six games. Bradley is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, but in five contests since returning from a hip injury, Felton has been efficient on offense, dishing out six assists and scoring 12 points on 49 percent shooting, 42 percent from three. On the other end, Bradley is neither a strong playmaker nor shooter, so the key will be keeping him out of the lane.
What to Look For
It's all about ball movement for the Knicks. They've won their last two games by a whopping 68 points combined by spreading the floor, getting into their offense early in the shot clock and playing unselfish basketball. Carmelo Anthony has scored 39 points on only 22 shots and the team has piled up 49 assists and 33 three-pointers in the two wins...Boston allows the second-best 3-point percentage to opponents and turns the ball over seventh-most in the NBA, so the Knicks should have opportunities to score...The Celtics have cobbled together the 11th best defense in the league so far, thanks in no small part to the ball pressure of Bradley, but they have trouble scoring. They rank 25th in points per 100 possessions, and with nothing resembling a go-to option, they'll rely on executing their sets to create offense.