The Boston Celtics are still in the thick of the Eastern Conference postseason race despite a recent rough patch.
While their remaining schedule isn’t very forgiving, the Celtics have what appears to be a favorable matchup up next.
Boston tries to get back on track Friday night when it visits the NBA-worst New York Knicks, who are one loss away from matching the franchise single-season record.
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The Celtics (31-40) are one of five teams within 2 1/2 games battling for the final two playoff spots with less than three weeks left in the regular season. Boston has been trending in the wrong direction, however, with four losses in five games.
Things aren’t going to get easier for the Celtics down the stretch, with nine of their last 11 matchups coming against teams in – or just outside – the playoff picture. The stretch begins against a Knicks team that’s dropped five straight and 20 of its last 24.
At 14-58, New York is closing in on its first 60-loss season. The Knicks have suffered 59 defeats four times, most recently in 2007-08.
The Celtics had dropped six of eight in the series before taking the last two meetings, 108-97 at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 3 and 115-94 at home Feb. 25. Avery Bradley scored 26 in the first of those victories, and Evan Turner had 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in the second.
Turner had averaged 19.7 points over a three-game stretch before finishing with four on 1-of-5 shooting in Wednesday’s 93-86 loss to Miami. Bradley scored 12, and is averaging 12.8 on 6-of-20 shooting from 3-point range in the last four losses compared to 18.7 on 8-of-16 3-point shooting in the last three wins.
Boston trailed by as many as 22 in the second half before outscoring the Heat 24-11 over the final 12 minutes.
"In the fourth quarter (we) played with great emotion and hard as heck and got us back into it, but then we just didn’t make very good decisions or play with poise late, which sometimes happens when you’re trying to mount a furious comeback," coach Brad Stevens said.
The Celtics have been outscored in the first quarter in each of their last five games.
"We can’t come out lackadaisical, we can’t come out without a sense of urgency," forward Jae Crowder said.
The Knicks, who have been outscored by an average of 6.8 points after one quarter during their losing skid, are coming off one of their worse showings of the season in Wednesday’s 111-80 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers. Rookie Cleanthony Early had a season-high 18 points off the bench for New York, which was outscored 42-18 in the paint and 17-0 in transition.
"It’s obviously tough for these guys to continue to go out there and try to fight," coach Derek Fisher said. "We’re in a really tough stretch, we’re playing a lot of really good teams in a condensed period of time. We’re overmatched in a lot of ways, but our guys aren’t quitting. It’s just tough out there."
Andrea Bargnani came in averaging 17.6 points over a 12-game stretch before scoring six on 2 of 7 from the floor. The Knicks allowed the Clippers to shoot an opponent season-high 56.4 percent – the third straight game they let a team shoot at least 51.9 percent.
"We just have to forget about this one and think about the next one," Bargnani said.