In less than two years, so much about one of the league's most storied rivalries is different but the most dramatic change is this: The Knicks are no longer looking up at the Celtics.
By Frank Isola / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Sunday, January 6, 2013, 4:17 PM.
Melo and the Knicks are looking down on the Celtics from the top of the Atlantic Division standings.
The Knicks roster, thankfully, has been completely turned over since that night in Boston six years ago when the Celtics embarrassed them 104-59 on national television.
That was the game where Isiah Thomas' team trailed by 50 points and a disgruntled Knicks fan tossed his replica jersey onto the court in protest. Ah, the memories.
Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are the lone holdovers from a Knicks squad that Boston swept in the first round of the NBA Playoffs in 2011. In less than two years, so much about one of the league's most storied rivalries is different but the most dramatic change is this:
The Knicks are no longer looking up at the Celtics.
Mike Woodson's team enters Monday's first meeting against Doc Rivers club in first place in the Atlantic Division and seven full games ahead of the Celtics in the standings.
"We don't even think about them," Anthony said. "No disrespect or anything. We're focused on ourselves. It just so happens the Celtics is the next game on our schedule."
Despite losing Ray Allen to free agency, Boston was still regarded as a contending team in the preseason. Now, at 16-17 they sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. But with Rivers as head coach and a championship tested roster featuring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, the Knicks understand what the Celtics are capable of accomplishing and are not about to pronounce them dead.
"No, no, no," Jason Kidd said. "They're not done at all. There's a lot of basketball. They got a great coach and they understand what it takes to win."
"They do things late in the season," Tyson Chandler added. "There's not much of a sense of urgency as far as the regular season goes because they know they've been together a long time and know they can turn it on."
The veterans in the Knicks locker room are too savvy to admit that playing Boston in early January is more than what it is; one of 82 regular season games. But a victory on Monday against an arch nemesis does, at least symbolically, carry more weight than say defeating Charlotte.
"It's going to be a big game," Anthony said after scoring 40 points in Saturday's win at Orlando. "Anytime New York plays Boston it's a big game, physical game. We're more concerned about ourselves than the Boston Celtics, just moving forward and getting better."
When the Knicks met Boston in the playoffs two years ago, Anthony took an ill-advised long jumper at the end of Game 1 to seal their fate. In Game 2, he passed up a shot that resulted in Garnett blocking Jared Jeffries' lay-up to preserve a win.
Anthony now has a better understanding of knowing when to shoot and pass. That says something about Anthony's maturity as a player and person and it also says something about the talented and veteran supporting cast, anchored by Kidd, the Knicks front office assembled for their All Star forward.
On Saturday, Anthony scored 16 fourth quarter points as the Knicks overcame an eight-point deficit. He set up Chandler for a dunk and made the pass out of the double team that led to J.R. Smith assisting on Kidd's game clinching three-pointer.
"We lean on Melo a lot," Kidd said. "But we have four other guys out there that can help him. With the shooters we have that keeps him one on one. And his job is to put the ball in the basket and he's one of the best in the world at doing that."
Anthony admitted to experiencing soreness again in his left knee but is expected to play on Monday. Stoudemire will continue to come off the bench while Marcus Camby will make his third straight start.
The Knicks record is 23-10, including two wins against both Miami and San Antonio. They still have four games left against Boston which amounts to four chances to prove that the rivalry has finally changed in their favor.
"There's a lot of history," Kidd said. "In the preseason we got to see a little bit of it. This is what counts. We expect them to be ready to play. People are saying they're struggling but they're a veteran ball club and they understand what's at stake."
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