In perhaps the most difficult homestand possible for the New York Knicks, Madison Square Garden has already seen a pair of remarkable individual performances from the NBA’s two biggest superstars.
Now, “the world’s most famous arena” will welcome the defending league champions.
The Boston Celtics’ 12-game winning streak came to an end Thursday, but they’ll try to bounce back less than 24 hours later against the improving Knicks, who play a third consecutive game against one of the NBA’s top three teams.
Bryant set an MSG record with 61 points in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 126-117 win on Monday, and James had 52 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds as Cleveland won 107-102 on Wednesday.
While no member of the defending champs is likely to put up such numbers, it likely won’t get any easier for the Knicks on Friday against Boston’s harassing defense.
“We need to not schedule these teams. We’ve got to get Hofstra and different people on the schedule,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We have to play them all, that’s the bad thing. It just happened that way, but again, we’re worried about the Knicks. We’ve got to learn to play a little bit better.”
The Celtics (41-10) now have the league’s third-best record behind the Lakers and Cavs, and they’ve still won their last six on the road, but their overall winning streak was snapped in a 110-109 overtime loss to Los Angeles Thursday.
After Kevin Garnett fouled out with more than four minutes left in regulation, Boston came up short in the final seconds of both regulation and overtime, and the Celtics were swept in the season series by the team it beat 4-2 in the 2008 NBA finals.
“These games are tough, and they’re emotional games and then you play the next night,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We’ll try to muster it up and see what we have.”
While the Celtics have recovered from their ugly 2-7 stretch from Dec. 25-Jan. 9, New York has also improved since then. The Knicks’ recent spurt has included victories over Houston and Atlanta, and they’ve scored more than 100 points in nine straight games as they grow more familiar with D’Antoni’s high-paced offense in his first season with the team.
Harrington had 39 points on Wednesday, giving him an average of 31.3 in his last three games, while David Lee has a streak of 12 straight double-doubles.
“We’re a lot better than we were a month ago,” said D’Antoni, whose team is only one game out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But the coach is still wary of Boston, which is playing with far more confidence than the last time it visited New York.
“It really ticked them off that we beat them last time,” he said, “so they’ll throw their best shot.”
Typically, that’s been enough against the Knicks. The Celtics had won eight straight versus New York before last month, a streak that began even before Boston acquired Garnett and Ray Allen.
Allen, shooting a career-best 49.5 percent from the field, will join Garnett and longtime Celtic Paul Pierce at the All-Star game later this month after being named as an injury replacement for Orlando’s Jameer Nelson on Thursday.