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Can Paul Pierce and the Celtics contain Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks?Neither the Boston Celtics (18-17, 13-8 home) nor the New York Knicks (18-18, 7-9) expected Sunday's matinee (1 p.m., ABC) to be a battle of .500 teams jousting for second place in the Atlantic Division. But as both teams try to iron out the inconsistencies that plagued them over the first half of the season, that's exactly what it will be. Regardless, it's a big game for both sides and to preview the matchup we play a quick game of 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne.
1. The Linsanity hoopla aside, what stands out to you about the Knicks since the last meeting with the Celtics?
Payne: Their enthusiasm. Jeremy Lin and J.R. Smith have been two huge shots in the arm for New York, and the respective returns of Carmelo Anthony and Baron Davis have helped to change the team's entire outlook on the season. A month ago, the Knicks were close to being a train wreck and people were calling for Mike D'Antoni's job. Now they're playing with a renewed spirit, and even more importantly, they seem to be sacrificing and playing together. If they can harness all of the talent that's on that roster and band together heading into the postseason, they'll be a team to be reckoned with.
Forsberg: It's truly fascinating that, one month ago, Lin played a mere six minutes against Boston (the last game before he took over SportsCenter and the world) and the Knicks were mocked when Steve Novak took a potential winning 3-pointer in the final moments of Boston's two-point triumph at TD Garden. Lin has seemingly solved the team's point guard problems and Novak reached double figures in scoring in 8 of 12 games to close out February. As Doc Rivers pointed out, New York not only survived injuries to Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, but thrived. That's something Boston couldn't do before the All-Star break when it lost five straight while playing without Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, or Brandon Bass at times. There's a ton of talent on this New York roster and if they put things together, they are a super intriguing team, well beyond the Lin fascination.
2. Grab your crystal ball: Who will have the better seeding in the Eastern Conference at season's end: Celtics or Knicks?
Payne: I'll say the Knicks, because I'm still waiting for the Celtics to show me they can win consistently this season. I don't necessarily think that finishing higher is as important as who can escape a first-round bout with the Heat or the Bulls. The sixth seed, at the very least, will be a goal for both teams, but looking at the standings as of Saturday afternoon, it's certainly not impossible for either to move up as high as fourth, although it will take a considerable amount of winning and some serious struggles from the likes of Philadelphia and Orlando.
Forsberg: On paper, it's the Knicks. But one concern is this recent six-game stretch where they can't get on a streak. There's been bad losses to New Orleans and New Jersey, yet quality wins over Dallas and Atlanta. Like we keep wondering with the Celtics: Can New York put it together on a consistent basis? Ultimately, it comes down to the schedule and it appears it's going to be really difficult for Boston to put together long winning streaks (which is why this little stretch is so important at the moment). If the Knicks can emerge from this daunting little stretch of five road contests over six games (including stops in Dallas, San Antonio, and Chicago), they have the easier slate the rest of the way. Boston absolutely needs to capitalize now if it wants to build some space between the two teams.