Two storied rivals square off Easter Sunday in what could be a possible playoff preview as the New York Knicks welcome the despised Boston Celtics to Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks are battling the Indiana Pacers for the second seed in the East and sit just one-half game behind them in the standings. Boston is currently seventh in the conference, but could improve its status down the stretch. The Celtics are two games out of the fifth spot and three ahead of Milwaukee.
New York is riding a season-high seven-game winning streak and will close out a three-game homestand versus the Atlantic Division-rival Celtics. The Knicks, who lead the division by four games over the Brooklyn Nets, have been getting major contributions from reserve J.R. Smith. The tattoo-laden Smith has scored 30-plus points in three straight games, averaging 34.7 ppg in that time, and posted 37 in a 111-102 win over Charlotte on Friday.
Smith became the first Knick ever to score at least 30 in three straight games off the bench.
"J.R.'s playing so complete right now and it's nice to see," said Knicks coach Mike Woodson.
Carmelo Anthony has taken a back seat to Smith lately, but had 32 points and 11 rebounds in the win over the Bobcats. New York is 26-10 at home and has won the last five contests at Madison Square Garden.
Knicks center Tyson Chandler is questionable Sunday with a bulging disc and has missed the past nine games. The Knicks haven't missed their All-Star big man, going 7-2 in his recent absence.
After hosting the Celtics, New York will hit the road to Miami and Atlanta.
Boston has won back-to-back games since losing five in a row and will play two straight away from home against the Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Celtics ended the slide with Wednesday's buzzer-beating win at Cleveland, then returned home for Friday's 118-107 win over the Hawks. Paul Pierce posted a triple-double of 20 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds, while Jeff Green added 27 points for Boston, which got 24 points from Jason Terry.
"This is the time of the year when you want to get ready for the playoffs so I just told myself be aggressive," Terry said.
Boston center Kevin Garnett missed his fourth straight game with inflammation in his left ankle and is expected to miss Sunday's game.
The Celtics will begin a four-game homestand Wednesday versus Detroit and haven't lost a season series to the Knicks since the 2003-04 campaign (1-3). The Knicks are 2-1 against Boston this season, but own a 7-20 record in the last 27 meetings.
Boston has won 13 of the past 18 meetings at MSG. Anthony is averaging 25.7 ppg against the Celtics this season.