Are Boston Celtics or New York Knicks Bigger Threat in 2013 NBA Playoffs?
Now that the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak has come to an end, the New York Knicks' seven-game streak is the NBA's longest.
The Knicks and Celtics meet for the final time this regular season on Easter Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET. New York holds a 2-1 lead in the season series, winning the last two, including a 100-85 beatdown on March 26.
Heading into Sunday night's game, the Knicks and Celtics could finish with the No. 2 and No. 7 seeds, respectively. A lot can change in the season's last handful of games, but there is no doubt that these Atlantic Division rivals will be compared with one another as the playoffs approach.
Both teams are banged up.
Tyson Chandler has missed the last nine games for the Knicks with a neck injury, while Amar'e Stoudemire is going through knee rehab. Stoudemire's status is still up in the air.
Chandler's injury has seemed to pale in comparison to Kevin Garnett's injury.
Garnett has missed the last four games and six of eight. He's been resting a foot and ankle injury that has been bugging him for some time. Some think the Celtics are resigned to their No. 7 seed and are just resting their aging star for the playoffs.
Starting shooting guard Courtney Lee is also suffering an ankle ailment. He missed three games but returned to limited action on March 29. Of course, the Celtics are also without Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger for the season.
Who is the most important player in Sunday's game?
With Garnett and Lee out, the Celtics lost five straight. However, since then, they've been able to put together back-to-back wins. They were resilient, beating a bad Cleveland Cavaliers team on a game-winning shot from Jeff Green. Then they took apart the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks 118-107.
Lee's importance cannot be dismissed, especially against the Knicks.
New York lives by the three, and Lee's size and athleticism makes him a menace on the perimeter defensively. If he has full lateral movement back in his ankle, he can help Avery Bradley lock down the Knicks' three-point shooters much more effectively than Jason Terry or Jordan Crawford could.
Boston's main problem right now is a lack of consistency. Surrounding Paul Pierce is a host of inconsistent players. Jeff Green has been playing inspired basketball, but outside of him, no one has stepped up.
Pierce, Green and Terry all showed up against the Hawks, with Pierce notching a triple-double, Green scoring 27 points and Terry hitting five threes off the bench. When they are all on, the Celtics are tough to beat, with or without Garnett.
The method to the Knicks' recent streak has been pretty simple: J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony are impossibly hot. Smith is averaging 27.5 points per game over the last six, while Anthony is averaging 24.7. Smith has topped 30 points in three straight games.
The issue with New York, like with Boston, will be consistency.
With Stoudemire and Chandler ailing, Smith can't slip. If he returns to shooting around 40 percent, like at the start of March, the Knicks won't be able to keep pace offensively. He's putting up 17.4 shots a night in March, more than he ever has before. That is the definition of toeing a dangerous line for the Knicks.
Still, after being eliminated by the Heat in five games in the first round of last year's playoffs, the Knicks should at least have an easy time winning more than one playoff game.
Once Chandler returns, they'll have a star player with championship experience back in the lineup. Kenyon Martin, who has been starting and playing well in Chandler's place, has been to two NBA Finals and is a long-time playoff veteran. The addition of Jason Kidd gives them more championship experience in the backcourt as well.
Up until this season, the Celtics owned the Knicks' number in the regular season and playoffs. They have five straight Atlantic Division crowns to prove it, not to mention the four-game sweep in the opening round of the 2011 postseason.
In 2012-13, though, the Knicks have a steady hand on the division title. And what the Knicks' last seven games have proven is that they can win while banged up.
Three of their seven wins have come against playoff teams, including the Celtics, and they swept two back-to-back series. They have also won the seven games by an average of 10.1 points.
Winning consistently while injured is something the Celtics have struggled with. Even if the Knicks' wins may not look too impressive given the records of their opponents, the Celtics have lost recent games to the New Orleans Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats.
Until the Celtics prove they can win consistently while banged up, they aren't as big a threat as once thought.
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