Celtics-Knicks Preview

The Boston Celtics are the four-time defending Atlantic Division
champions, but the New York Knicks are hoping their own version of
the “Big Three” is ready to end that reign.

The longtime rivals don’t have to wait long to start battling
for supremacy in the division as they open the season at Madison
Square Garden on Sunday.

Boston won its fourth consecutive division title following a
56-26 regular season. The Celtics swept New York out of the first
round of the playoffs before losing in five games to Miami.

Boston also swept the four-game regular season series.

Despite not winning one game between the two, the Knicks believe
talent-wise they can compete with Boston, having added Tyson
Chandler to a team that already included forwards Carmelo Anthony
and Amare Stoudemire.

Chandler brings some needed defensive energy to New York. The
Knicks, who went 42-40 last season, were 28th in the league in
scoring defense, giving up 105.7 points per game.

While coach Mike D’Antoni has long been known for his
high-scoring offenses, the team is preaching defense entering the
new season.

“I feel like if we’re as committed as we say we are to winning a
championship and really going after that dream, then we’ll be
committed on the defensive end, because that’s the only way you can
get it done,” said Chandler, who averaged 10.1 points and 9.4
rebounds last season to help Dallas win a championship.

Maybe no team stresses defense more than Boston, which gave up a
league-low 91.1 points per game last season.

However, New York may be in good position to overtake Boston
with Chandler joining Stoudemire and Anthony to provide the Knicks
with arguably the league’s most talented frontcourt.

Anthony concedes that comparisons could be made to the way this
New York squad is built and the way Boston’s “Big Three” of Kevin
Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen won an NBA championship in
2008.

“We have a chance to do some big things,” he said. “Boston did a
great job of guys coming together at the right time in their
careers. A lot of things weren’t going their way, but they came
together as one and they won a championship.”

Anthony averaged 26.3 points in 27 games for the Knicks after
his trade from Denver. He underwent offseason surgeries on his left
knee and elbow.

Stoudemire dealt with back issues last season but was still a
force, averaging 25.3 points and 8.2 rebounds. A tight NBA schedule
could be tough on him, but he said the long lockout may help.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” Stoudemire said. “A great
opportunity to heal, get stronger. … I feel like a beast.”

The longer offseason may benefit the aging Celtics early on, but
much continues to be made about their ability to compete long term
with Allen, age 36, Garnett, 35, and Pierce, 34.

Pierce will miss the opener with a nagging heel injury but hopes
to return for Tuesday’s game against Miami, though coach Doc Rivers
said his star forward may come off the bench. Sasha Pavlovic will
start in Pierce’s place Sunday.

There were already concerns about Boston’s depth even before
Pierce’s injury. Jeff Green, who played in 26 games for the Celtics
last season following a trade from Oklahoma City, will miss the
season to repair an aortic aneurysm. He averaged 9.8 points and 3.3
rebounds for Boston.

Rivers has said he’ll have to monitor minutes for his veterans,
perhaps none moreso than Garnett.

“We’re all figuring it out. It’s going to be a period where
everybody’s adjusting,” Garnett said. “This year will test
everybody’s endurance and their willingness.”

While much has been made about the Celtics’ age, their biggest
question mark may be Rajon Rondo.

Rondo averaged 10.6 points and 11.2 assists last season. Rumors
had Boston looking at trading him to New Orleans for Chris Paul,
who eventually ended up with the Los Angeles Clippers.

He said the trade talks don’t provide him with additional
motivation to dissuade doubters.

“I’m already fueled up,” Rondo said. “This is part of the
process. I’m just trying to be a better player.”

Rondo averaged 16.7 assists in three meetings with New York last
season.

The Celtics, who have won 20 of 22 against the Knicks including
playoffs, are playing on Christmas Day for the fourth straight
year. They are 1-2.

“Being at Madison Square Garden on Christmas, it’s pretty
exciting,” Garnett said.