The Boston Celtics are struggling at home and coming off an ugly offensive showing in their previous game.
For a team that fits that description, there are few better places to visit than Madison Square Garden.
The New York Knicks, however, will be trying for a third straight victory as the Atlantic Division rivals square off for the first time this season in Sunday’s matinee.
Boston (9-4) looked like it had returned to championship form during an impressive 6-0 start, with Kevin Garnett(notes) healthy and newcomer Rasheed Wallace(notes) adding depth to a veteran-laden roster.
But the team has appeared tired and sluggish while losing three of four. The Celtics’ stumble has been even more surprising considering they’ve dropped three of five at home after going 35-6 there each of the past two seasons.
Its typically tough defense softened in a 113-104 loss at Indiana last weekend, but Boston’s offense was the primary problem in an 83-78 loss to Orlando on Friday night. The Celtics shot 34.5 percent, their worst at home since before they acquired Garnett and Ray Allen(notes).
“We’re not a team that takes losing well,” Garnett said. “We’re still trying to figure it out.”
Boston still had an opportunity to beat the Magic, tying the game with under three minutes to go. But the Celtics didn’t score again, with Wallace capping an 0-of-8 night from 3-point range with a late miss.
“I think that our team is playing awful,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I’ve been saying it for a week now. We’re going to win some games still, but we’re not going to win against good teams.”
The Knicks (3-9) certainly don’t qualify as a good team, even after winning back-to-back road games on their brief recent trip. Their defense is still among the worst in the NBA, with opponents shooting 49.3 percent and averaging 108.0 points - both in the bottom three.
New York avoided the dubious distinction of becoming the first team to lose to woeful New Jersey this season on Saturday afternoon, sending the Nets to a 13th straight loss by winning 98-91.
“We didn’t want to be that team, obviously with them being a team that’s right across the river,” forward Al Harrington(notes) said. “We were really focusing and not having a letdown. Hopefully we can grow from here.”
Harrington’s 17 points made him one of six Knicks players to score in double figures, and David Lee(notes) had 16 and 12 rebounds for just his third double-double after he led the league with 65 last season.
One of those came Jan. 4, when Harrington had 30 points and Wilson Chandler(notes) added 31 to help the Knicks beat Boston 100-88. But the Celtics avenged their only loss in the series since Nov. 24, 2006, with a 110-100 win in Manhattan in the most recent meeting Feb. 6.
A New York victory would match the team’s longest winning streak from all of 2008-09.