NEW YORK KNICKS
at BOSTON CELTICS
Tip-off: Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: N/A, Total: N/A
The Knicks travel to Boston on Wednesday for the second leg of a back-to-back.
After a four-game losing streak earlier in the month, the Celtics seem to have jumped back to life. They very nearly pulled off a season sweep of the Warriors before losing 109-105 at Oracle on Saturday night, and then finished up a four-game Western Conference road trip with a hard-fought 111-110 win in Denver on Monday. Eight games remain for Boston before the All-Star break—six at home—and the first takes place Wednesday night at home on national television against the Knicks. There's been some drama around Madison Square Garden in recent days, with concerns about franchise player PF Kristaps Porzingis' durability and happiness, and conflict with shelved C Joakim Noah and his disgustingly large contract. The Knicks were off to an above-.500 start at Christmas, but a 4-10 record in their first 14 January games has soured any enthusiasm. The Knicks play at home against Brooklyn on Tuesday before making the quick flight to Boston. PG Marcus Smart is out indefinitely for the Celtics with an injured hand.
The Knicks wrapped up a seven-game road trip at 3-4 and finished on a positive note, blowing out the Suns 107-85 on Friday despite playing the second leg of a back-to-back and their third game in four days. C Enes Kanter scored 15 points with the first quarter before finishing with 20 and 10. Kanter has brought both toughness and a sense of humor to a Knicks team that needed both, although those characteristics can become agitating when the team is struggling. Porzingis posted 19 and seven, plus three blocks, in 28 minutes on the court. After a hot start to the year, he has seen his scoring decline in each successive month this season. In a Knicks offense bereft of scorers, he's being asked to shoulder a burden that certainly seems to be too big for him to handle at this point in his career. SG Tim Hardaway Jr. is on an atrocious contract, but he's the player who has been most willing to take some of that burden from KP. He showed his potential for scoring outbursts at Utah a couple weeks ago, scoring 31 points in a game that New York won by two. He missed 20 games with injury through December and January before returning on January 10. Lottery pick PG Frank Ntilikina is very much a project—as he was expected to be—but is already an above-average perimeter defender. Players like SG Courtney Lee and C Kyle O'Quinn have seen their names in trade rumors thanks to the roles they could play for a contender. C Willy Hernangomez, once considered a key part of the team's young core, has largely seen his playing time eliminated and could also be a trade candidate as a result.
Many hours have been spent dissecting why the Cavaliers have regressed so significantly this season, but there's a simple answer: They traded one of the NBA's foremost superstars. It's a status that PG Kyrie Irving has reaffirmed almost every night this year for Boston, thrilling both home and road crowds with his below-the-rim acrobatics. He and Steph Curry put on one of the best duels of the season on Saturday, with Irving dropping 37 points on deadly efficient 13-of-18 shooting (5-of-6 from three). He shot almost as well on Monday, scoring 27 on 11-of-17 shooting. SF Jayson Tatum played second fiddle with 20 points (8-13 FG), six boards and four assists. It was an especially encouraging performance, as Tatum has hit something of a rookie wall in January and managed only four points against Golden State. Backup PG Terry Rozier was the x-factor with eight points, six assists and a team-high nine rebounds. He is developing into a focused and formidable defender, as well. The four other guys who got bench minutes for Boston also played well: PFs Daniel Theis, Marcus Morris and Semi Ojeleye. Reliable play from those guys could make Boston a serious threat to win the East when the playoffs come around. It was a weak outing from PF Al Horford on the stat sheet, as he mustered only 10 points. But it were his actions and passes on offense that, as always, opened things up for Irving and others. He's extremely deserving of his spot on the All-Star team, although he stands out as the least-flashy player on either roster.