One team's two-game winning streak will end Monday night when the New York Knicks host the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden in the first of four matchups between the Atlantic Division powers.
The Knicks defeated the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, then went to Orlando and beat the Magic on Saturday night, 114-106. Despite falling nine behind in the first quarter, a frame the Knicks allowed 36 Magic points, the Knicks picked up their 10th road win of the season.
Carmelo Anthony put on another MVP-type display. He scored 40 points on 14- for-29 shooting and 4-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc. What made Anthony's performance all the more impressive was that 16 of his 40 came in the fourth quarter, when the Knicks erased an eight-point deficit with a 33-17 outburst.
"We played defense," said Anthony, who also had a season-high six assists. "We've been moving the ball pretty well. When we move the ball, we're a tough team."
If you doubt Anthony's MVP candidacy, there were chants on Saturday -- by the road fans.
"I hear them," Anthony said. "It feels good."
Tyson Chandler had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Amare Stoudemire netted 11 points in almost 17 minutes off the bench, but one reserve saw a streak come to an end.
J.R. Smith only scored 18 against the Magic to snap his streak of five straight 20-plus points. He is still averaging 16.7 ppg, which is good for second among bench scorers.
The Celtics have taken two in a row after a four-game losing slide. They beat the Indiana Pacers at home on Friday night, then came out the next night and bested a tough Atlanta Hawks team on the road, 89-81.
Boston trailed by 15 at the half, but a pep talk from leader Paul Pierce in the locker room turned the tide.
"We were kind of bickering with each other at halftime about what to do defensively, and I just reminded the guys that the fight isn't against us, it's against the other team," said Pierce. "I told our guys we have to accept coaching. Doc (Rivers) was telling us what to do, and guys were getting angry with him. I told them the ones we need to be getting angry with is the other team."
The speech worked.
The Celtics outscored the Hawks 33-9 in the third quarter and held on in the end for the victory, which ended a three-game road losing streak.
Pierce backed up his talk with 26 points, including 17 in that pivotal third quarter. Rajon Rondo registered a triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
The two teams split last season's four games, but Boston went 28-8 against the Knicks in the nine seasons before that.