Knicks @ Celtics 1 PM
Where to Watch: ABC
Where to Listen: ESPN 1050 AM
Following the All-Star break, New York has enjoyed rare practice time at Madison Square Garden Training Center on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. With players returning from injuries and new additions to the team, the Knicks hope the time on the floor will help create cohesion for a crucial stretch of games over the next six days. Watching New York hold 5-on-5 scrimmages is both entertaining and competitive with both squads searching for bragging rights by the end of the practice session. At 18-18, New York needs to jumpstart the four-game road trip on positive note as it only trails Boston by a half game in the Eastern Conference standings. The team is mostly healthy despite Bill Walker, who is sidelined with an elbow injury.
While the trade winds swirl around the Big Three, the Celtics continue to push towards the postseason behind their trademark type of basketball. Boston has reeled off three straight wins since the All-Star break and jumped back over the .500 mark with an 18-17 overall record. Ray Allen missed Friday’s game due to a cold and is listed as probable for Sunday and Jermaine O’Neal is sidelined until the middle of March with a sprained left wrist. The injury to O’Neal has forced Celtics head coach Doc Rivers to move Kevin Garnett to the center spot and place Brandon Bass in the starting power forward position. The two players are interchangeable depending on the matchup but the absence of O’Neal does effect the Boston bench rotation. Boston is entering a crucial stretch of games against six straight playoff contenders, including: New York, Houston, Philadelphia, Portland, the Lakers, and the Clippers.
Last Time Out
The Knicks reversed a 17-game deficit and scored 71 second half points in a 120-103 lopsided victory over the Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
The Celtics thrashed the Nets 107-94 in Boston behind 51.7 percent shooting from the floor.
The Numbers Game
Each game between these two teams has been separated by two points this year. The season series is knotted up at 1-1 with two more contests remaining, starting with Sunday’s matchup in Boston.
Match-up to Watch
Carmelo Anthony vs. Paul Pierce
With the recent immergence of Jeremy Lin at the Knicks point guard spot, Anthony can focus on his primary duty, which is scoring. Prior to Lin’s sudden explosion, New York relied on Anthony to initiate the offense in a point forward type of role. Anthony is a more gifted offensive weapon but there are similarities developing between the Lin-Anthony duo to the Rondo-Pierce combo in Beantown. Both teams need its playmakers at the signal caller position, however, when the game is on the line, Anthony and Pierce will receive the call. In the February 3 matchup, Pierce dropped 30 points in 43 minutes of action. On the other side, Anthony registered 26 in a highly entertaining battle between two of the premier small forwards in the league. The Knicks leading scorer is d primed for a big offensive outing, which could turn the tide in this Eastern Conference showdown.
What to Look For
The Knicks look completely different since the last time the two teams collided over a month ago. Lin is the unquestioned starting point guard, Anthony is healthy, and the bench is extremely deep with the recent success of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Steve Novak, and Baron Davis. After the New York bench compiled 50 combined points in a win over Cleveland, look for the second unit to be the difference maker in this crucial game. The Knicks must find a way to crack the Celtics suffocating defense that ranks No. 3 in points allowed per game. If New York’s backcourt can penetrate the lane and open space for Anthony, Novak, and Smith on the perimeter, Boston’s defenders will have a difficult time covering the floor.