12/21 Game Preview: Celtics at Knicks
NEW YORK -- In the midst of their biggest slump of the season - a 4-4 stint after starting the season 22-4 - the Boston Celtics head to New York on Thursday night for a showdown with the Atlantic Division-rival Knicks.
Potentially in the offing? A matchup with Kristaps Porzingis, the NBA's fifth-leading scorer.
Porzingis, who has missed two games with a sore knee, told reporters on Wednesday that he anticipated making his return against the Celtics, who are currently eight games above the surprising Knicks in the divisional standings.
"I still feel it just a bit," Porzingis told the New York Daily News. "This kind of injury I'm going to feel it for a little bit. It's nothing bad. I just got to make sure the knee's stable and I'm feeling stable on the court. I can't have instability sensation. That's not good. I went through the whole practice. They were trying to take me out. I wanted to stay in. I felt great. The knee felt stable. I don't see why I would not play (Thursday)."
New York (16-14) played admirably in Porzingis' absence on Saturday in a 111-96 win over Oklahoma City in Carmelo Anthony's first game back in New York since an offseason trade, but the Knicks crashed hard in a 109-91 loss at Charlotte on Monday, shooting 42 percent from the field and 17 percent from 3-point range.
The Celtics had similar shooting woes in a 90-89 home loss to Miami on Thursday.
Boston (26-8) shot 38 percent against the Heat, capping off a 4-4 stretch in which they've shot 46 percent from the field.
It wasn't only the Celtics' offense that failed them against the Heat, but the defense against former Celtic Kelly Olynyk, who had a career-high 32 points against them. Aside from Olynyk, Miami shot just 21 of 64.
"He played a great game," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "I'm certainly happy for him. It was definitely at our expense. Second time in a week one of our former players came in and gave it to us."
Utah's Jonas Jerebko was the other.
The Knicks, who are just 1-5 this season without Porzingis, might be getting another key player back in the near future.
The team announced on Tuesday that shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. was cleared to move forward in his rehabilitation from a left lower leg stress injury, and that he's eyeing a return following Christmas.
His return would give a boost to a squad still seeking a reliable third scoring option in Porzingis and his absence.
Even if New York has improved in its play without its big two.
"We've grown a lot. I think we've grown a lot and I think we still have a lot of growing to do," Porzingis said. "We're on the right track. Even without Tim, we're getting better. When Tim comes back I believe he's going to bring us even more gunpowder offensively. That's going to make us even better."
Boston won the teams' first meeting, 110-89 on Oct. 24 in Boston.