For the first time in a while, the 23-10 Knicks are sitting at the top of the Atlantic Division, boasting a comfortable seven-game lead over their longtime rivals, the Celtics.
Boston is stepping into MSG for the first time this season, and despite a 16-17 start, they are coming off two of their best defensive efforts in wins over Indiana and Atlanta. The last time the Celtics came to the Garden last April, it turned into a shootout between Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce in the Knicks' 118-110 win.
Here are two things the Knicks must do Monday night to build on their current two-game winning streak:
1. Score aggressively. The Knicks need to attack the basket and find the open man from downtown to build an early lead, and then maintain it. They don’t want to give Boston a chance to rally in the second half like they did in Atlanta a few nights ago, when they erased a 19-point deficit -- a big credit to Pierce's superb scoring in the third quarter.
It all starts with Anthony, who is the league's second-highest scorer at 29.3 points per game. He's also leading the league in first-quarter points with a 9.9 average. While the Celtics' perimeter defense has improved over the past three games thanks to Avery Bradley's return, Melo demands attention Boston doesn’t usually like to give. If they send double teams his way, the Knicks should be able to capitalize given the number of open 3-point threats Boston might not be able to keep up with.
2. Crash the boards. This will be the third game in a row Marcus Camby and Tyson Chandler will be starting together. They have helped improve the Knicks' defensive intensity and rebounds per game to 44.0 over the past two games, ranking them near the top of the league. They're 26th at 39.9 on the season. New York will need their big men to do much of the same in order to limit Boston's second-chance points and keep them from building momentum.