Knicks-Celtics Preview

The Associated Press

The Boston Celtics have been finding their past-their-prime label hard to shake while carving out a reputation as the NBA's streakiest team over the first two months.

Right now, they're on a run they'll happily accept.

The Celtics try to make it four consecutive wins Sunday at TD Garden in their first extended look at Jeremy Lin, whose New York Knicks showed off some impressive depth in their return from the All-Star break.

Boston started the season with three straight losses, including one at New York on Christmas Day for its lone defeat in the past 11 meetings, and has suffered two five-game skids in the same season for the first time since 2006-07.

It's also put together three four-game winning streaks, and it's on the verge of another after heading into the break with five straight defeats. After returning with consecutive tight wins over Cleveland and Milwaukee, the Celtics (18-17) rolled past New Jersey 107-94 on Friday despite missing Ray Allen.

"We were mentally kind of worn down going into the break those last couple of weeks. Playing so many games and having so many inconsistencies," said Paul Pierce, who had 27 points and eight assists. "It just gave us a chance to go into the break, refresh ourselves, and come back with a positive outlook on the second half. And it's showing out there on the court."

The last time Boston saw the Knicks (18-18) was Feb. 3, a 91-89 home win that was the second two-point contest between the Atlantic Division rivals this season.

That also was the last game before New York became caught up in Linsanity, as the point guard from Harvard came off the bench to lead the way to a victory over New Jersey the next day.

Lin's worst game since his emergence came immediately before the break, an eight-point, eight-turnover effort in a loss to Miami on Feb. 23, but he bounced back with 19 points and 13 assists in a 120-103 win over Cleveland on Wednesday.

The Knicks trailed by 12 at halftime but outscored the Cavaliers 71-42 in the second half. Thirty-eight of those points came from a bench that's suddenly looking much deeper and healthier with the addition of J.R. Smith, the return of Baron Davis and the rise of Steve Novak.

"I think our second unit did an awesome job," Lin said. "I think we've been talking a lot about our depth and tonight we definitely got to see the depth, and so that's going to be a strength of ours and we need to continue to use that."

New York's second unit has provided very little against Boston. The Knicks' bench has been outscored 55-24 in the two meetings while shooting 23.5 percent.

After averaging just 15.0 points in his first three games after returning from a groin injury, Carmelo Anthony had 22 on Wednesday.

There's a good chance he'll fare even better against the Celtics. Anthony has averaged 31.5 points in the teams' two meetings this season, getting to the foul line 25 times.

Allen, who had flu-like symptoms Friday, is expected to return Sunday, but center Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) is out. Guard Avery Bradley, who sprained his ankle Friday, says he'll be ready to play.

If Bradley is limited, Rajon Rondo may have to play particularly heavy minutes - not that Doc Rivers would necessarily mind. The Celtics have averaged 29.3 assists since the break, including 11.3 from Rondo, and had a season-high 35 Friday.

"Two games in a row the offensive execution for Rondo has been off the charts," Rivers told the team's official Twitter feed.

Including last season's playoff series, Rondo has averaged 20.8 points and 11.8 assists in his past five games against the Knicks.

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