Celtics-Knicks Preview

Win consecutive games after dropping nine straight and your

season has renewed optimism. Win five of seven after a six-game

skid and you’re in first place.

Welcome to the Atlantic Division.

Those have been the respective cases for the New York Knicks and

Boston Celtics, who each go for their third straight win Sunday at

Madison Square Garden in a matchup of teams within the NBA’s

weakest division.

The Celtics (9-12) find themselves atop the Atlantic despite

already experiencing losing streaks of four and six games in the

first month of the season.

“We’re at the top of the division,” forward Kris Humphries said.

“That’s all that’s important.”

The Knicks (5-13) have won back-to-back games for the first time

after opening 3-13, yet find themselves only 2 1/2 games out of the

division lead. Their 121-83 home win over Orlando on Friday was the

NBA’s second most lopsided result of the season.

New York is coming off its two best games of 2013-14, shooting a

combined 55.0 percent against the Nets and Magic to win by an

average of 34.0 points. The Knicks crossed the bridge to Brooklyn

for Thursday’s game shooting 42.1 percent and riding a nine-game

slide.

“I knew it was going to eventually happen. I’m glad that it

did,” Knicks point guard Raymond Felton said. “It was a good night

to happen in Brooklyn, then we came back tonight and showed it

wasn’t a fluke. That’s what a lot of people were trying to say. We

came out tonight to really prove that.”

Without Amare Stoudemire, who isn’t playing back-to-back nights

following offseason knee surgery, the Knicks had seven players

score in double figures against the Magic.

Carmelo Anthony’s 20 points and 11 rebounds led the way. Anthony

had 19 against the Nets and is averaging 22.2 in wins while putting

up 26.8 in losses. He totaled 22 shots in the last two games after

averaging 22.2 through the first 16. He’s shooting 49.4 percent in

victories and 41.8 percent in losses.

“I wanted to try to do something a little different to see if it

worked,” Anthony said. “Me scoring 30 wasn’t working.”

New York’s outside shooting, however, is working with a

33-for-61 mark in the two wins.

Boston’s recent victories have been more modest, though the

Celtics seem to have found some consistency in bouncing back from a

4-10 start.

Friday’s 106-98 home win over Denver was led by guards Jordan

Crawford (22 points, eight assists) and Avery Bradley (18 points).

Crawford is shooting 63.0 percent and averaging 23.5 points in the

Celtics’ consecutive wins.

Humphries contributed 18 points off the bench against Denver.

He’s seen increased minutes with Kelly Olynyk out with a sprained

ankle, though Friday’s output doubled his previous season-high

scoring night.

“I have a lot of faith in Kris, I have a lot of faith in Kelly,

I’ve got a lot of faith in all five bigs,” Boston coach Brad

Stevens told the team’s official website.

“We talked about that before, but the bottom line is I guess

when you look across the league it seems like every team we play

has one of their bigs out. So to have five of them that all really,

really compliment each other, that gives you the flexibility of

four being available on a given night.”

Olynyk will be sidelined for an eighth straight game, while New

York has played without center Tyson Chandler since Nov. 8 due to a

fractured right fibula.

The teams are meeting for the first time since the Knicks beat

the Celtics in six games last season in the Eastern Conference

quarterfinals. They’ve also won three straight regular-season

contests against them.