Celtics-Knicks Preview

The Associated Press

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.

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