Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
The Knicks and Celtics square off at Madison Square Garden on Monday night for the first of four meetings this season. New York is seven games ahead of Boston in the Atlantic Division.
(UPDATE: Rajon Rondo will not play due to suspension).
Prior to this season, not many predicted where these teams would be on the date of their first meeting. After taking the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year and subsequently making what seemed to be some nice offseason moves, many figured Boston was the clear-cut second-best team in the East.
Instead, New York has currently taken up that mantle, boasting a 23-10 record and sitting just a half game behind the Heat in the conference. Carmelo Anthony is having an MVP-type season, and many of the veteran additions have made positive impacts. Furthermore, the Knicks have done all this largely without the services of Amare Stoudemire, who just returned from a knee injury.
Meanwhile, Boston has struggled to a 16-17 record overall and 6-11 mark away from the TD Garden. Free agent acquisitions such as Jason Terry and Courtney Lee have not quite panned out as hoped, and the Celtics have been consistently battered on the glass. Boston is currently last in the NBA in rebounds per game and 29th in the league in total rebound rate.
Both teams will be entering Monday's game on two-game winning streaks. Anthony scored 40 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, in a 114-106 Knicks victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday night. Tyson Chandler added a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Jason Kidd nearly notched a triple-double with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Stoudemire and J.R. Smith both reached double figures off the bench.
Boston is coming off an 89-81 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, aided by Paul Pierce's 26 points and a triple-double from Rondo. Pierce scored 17 of his 26 points during a huge third quarter that saw the Celtics outscore the Hawks 33-9. The victory gave Boston consecutive victories for the first time since late November.
Stopping Anthony will obviously be of the utmost importance for the Celtics' defense. His 29.3 points per game ranks second in the league behind Kobe Bryant, who is at 30.5 points per game. Pierce will likely be the main man called upon to slow Anthony, but Doc Rivers has other options as well. Defensive stopper Avery Bradley or Kevin Garnett could see some time on Anthony depending on what kinds of lineups each team uses.
Something else to watch will be how Boston defends New York's elite three-point shooting. The Knicks take and make the most three-pointers in the league, and are tied for third in three-point percentage at 38.8. The Celtics have had a tough time defending the arc all season, as opponents are shooting 37.1 percent from long range against them. That mark is tied for sixth worst in the league.
Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.