Locking up a fifth straight Atlantic Division title appears to be inevitable for the playoff-bound Boston Celtics. They have a comfortable lead atop the standings and will close out a four-game road trip tonight against a New York Knicks squad trying to stay alive in the postseason chase.
The Celtics are 4 1/2 games ahead of Philadelphia and New York in the division with five to play. They completed a grueling back-to-back-to-back stretch on the road with Sunday's 94-82 triumph at Charlotte thanks to assist machine Rajon Rondo, who had 20 points and 16 assists. Rondo has handed out 10-plus assists in 22 straight games -- the longest streak since John Stockton posted 29 straight games from Jan. 25-March 30, 1992
"Rondo was sensational," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "He really didn't want to come out of the game."
Rondo carried the load while starters Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett rested. Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley had 22 points apiece for the Celtics, who have won 11 of 14 games and are seeded fourth in the Eastern Conference -- three behind Indiana. Ray Allen missed his fourth straight game with a sore right ankle and will be a game-time decision. Pierce (toe) is listed as probable against New York.
Boston is 2-1 on the road trip and 15-16 as the visitor this season. It will play three of four games at home to close out the regular season, and can capture a division title tonight with a win and a 76ers loss to Indiana.
New York is currently tied with the Sixers for the last two spots in the East -- two games clear of the Milwaukee Bucks. Philly will host the Pacers tonight at home. The Knicks just had a nine-game home winning streak come to an end with Sunday's 93-85 loss to the Miami Heat.
Carmelo Anthony poured in 42 points on 14 of 27 shooting and J.R. Smith was the only other double-digit scorer with 16 points off the bench. Tyson Chandler was a non-factor with nine points and five rebounds for the Knicks, who entered the game having won 13 of their last 17 games.
"We'll be fine, we'll bounce back, we'll rebound from this and learn from it," Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said.
The Knicks are 20-11 at Madison Square Garden this season and will play four of their last five games of the season on the road.
New York has lost two of three meetings with the Celtics this season and 18 of the past 21 matchups between the division foes. It has lost the season series against Boston in each of the last seven seasons. Boston has won four of six and 10 of its last 13 trips to the Big Apple.
Anthony is averaging 29.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in three games against the Celtics this season. Rondo has averages of 18.7 points, 13.3 assists and 9.0 rebounds in this year's series.