Game Preview: Knicks at Celtics
Give the dysfunctional New York Knicks some credit - they're winning the games they're supposed to be winning for a playoff push in the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks try to match their season best with a fifth consecutive win when they visit the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night.
With seemingly one distraction after another all season - from Carmelo Anthony's impending decision to opt out of his deal at season's end to J.R. Smith's disruptive behavior to season-long speculation over coach Mike Woodson's job security to the latest drama of owner James Dolan's rumored attempts to entice Phil Jackson to join the organization in some capacity - the Knicks have consistently provided some form of entertainment despite being 10th in the East and 3 1/2 games out of the final postseason spot.
This past week their play has earned them plaudits, averaging 114.0 points while shooting 41.3 percent (50 for 121) from 3-point range during the win streak. Their 123-110 victory Monday night over Philadelphia may have been the most encouraging one since rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 28 points and was one of four Knicks to finish with at least 20 as Anthony didn't have to shoulder the scoring burden alone.
"I love nights like this," said Anthony, who finished with 22 points. "Four guys with 20-plus points. Sharing the ball. Making plays. Having fun out there. Taking the load off me. I love nights like that."
Of course, most teams would love the opportunity to gain ground in the playoff chase at the expense of Minnesota, Utah, Cleveland and the 76ers - not exactly the NBA's version of "Murderers Row" with a combined .366 winning percentage. And after this game versus the Celtics, who dropped to 22-42 after Tuesday night's 94-83 loss at Indiana, the Knicks wrap up this soft patch of schedule Saturday at home against league-worst Milwaukee.
If the Knicks continue sharing the ball, the caliber of opponent - or lack thereof - could prove irrelevant. They've averaged 23.5 assists in the four straight wins, contributing to 49.7 percent shooting - well above their season mark of 44.6 percent.
New York's season-best five-game win streak came Jan. 5-13.
The Celtics were denied a third straight victory Tuesday as they failed to overcome a 15-point second-half deficit despite cutting it to one on two occasions. Jared Sullinger scored 17 points and Kris Humphries added 15 for Boston, which shot 35.2 percent while letting Indiana convert 54.8 percent of its attempts.
"We shot 35 percent and we had the ball down two or three with three or four minutes to go. It was a pretty good effort by our guys," coach Brad Stevens said. "We're 16-10 assists to turnovers. We got 20 offensive rebounds. Everything went great except the ball going in the basket.
"That's okay, I feel like we're getting better, I really do and I think you can see it."
Despite splitting their last four games, the Celtics have played strong perimeter defense, limiting opponents to 19.1 percent (17 for 89) from beyond the arc. The Knicks have had some long-range success in three games versus Boston at 36.8 percent (21 for 57) and made 10 of 20 in a 114-88 rout in the most recent meeting Jan. 28. Anthony had 24 points in 28 minutes while Hardaway and Smith combined for 33 off the bench.
Boston won the other two games this season, including a 114-73 drubbing at New York on Dec. 8.