The NBA landscape changes on an almost nightly basis, and for the Knicks andCeltics, Tuesday's tilt at MSG willfeaturetwo squads heading in opposite directions.
The Knicks (19-20) have won five of theirlast seven games, while the Celtics (19-18) are losers of three-straight. TheKnicks will belooking to avenge a recent loss to the Celtics on Dec. 27. Boston leads the season series, 1-0, but has looked like a squad in disarray recently, with reports surfacing that players are beginning to grumble over head coach Brad Stevens’sporadic rotation.
Head coach Derek Fisher can relate to that criticism, as for a majority of the season, he has had nights where guys at the back end of the rotation would alternate between playing 20-25 minutes one night to immediately seeing a DNP-CD (did not play-coach’s decision) beside their names in the box score the very next night.
Fisher noted he’s starting to get a better feel of the team, which is why he’s pared his rotation down to a maximum of nine guys. That means on any given night, venerable veterans like Lou Amundson, Sasha Vujacic, Kyle O’Quinn, and Kevin Seraphin could be relegated to spectators.
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Such is the predicament of a team mainly stocked with solid role players, as save for stars Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, every other interchangeable player is valued but not necessary.
Boston has the same dilemma, as it is built on a similar roster that doesn’t have one all-star player – unless the underground push for Isaiah Thomas gains traction. Neither squad is currently in the playoff race, as the upstart Orlando Magic (20-18) have leapfrogged them both for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
But the Knicks are trending up, as their recent stretch has included wins over the Miami Heat (22-15), a home-and-home sweep of the Atlanta Hawks (23-15), and an impressive win over the Milwaukee Bucks, Sunday night. Even the Knicks’ Friday loss in San Antonio was impressive, as it was a last-second 100-99 endeavor. The Spurs (32-6) haven’t lost at home in 31-straight games, dating back to last year.
The recent play of the Knicks has been promising. Considering they came within inches of a Jose Calderon corner 3-pointer of ending the Spurs’ impressive homecourt record (22-0), the Knicks believe they are ascending at the right time.
The recently-concluded 11-game stretch – mainly against winning teams – likely provided the squad with more mettle, and hope that they’ll stay within striking distance of at least the eighth seed. The current bottom-rung of the playoff seedings is full of teams just like the Knicks – good enough to be a pesky out in the first round, but not necessarily good enough to creep into the top half of the conference standings.
They’re playing good team ball right now, and aren’t totally dependent on their star duo, as the Knicks also owe their current success to unlikely sources. Calderon is one of the unsung heroes of late. He’s been a name bandied about in trade rumors, as Knicks fans have been begging for an upgrade at the point guard position all season, but the much-maligned veteran notched nine points, seven assists, two steals, and four rebounds in the win over the Bucks, and was an astronomical plus-34 in the plus-minus category – and all of that while defending Bucks’ point guard Michael Carter-Williams into a 1-of-8 shooting night.
How quickly a week changes things, as just a few days ago, Knicks fans were clamoring for a trade or street free-agent signing to give the point guard spot a boost. Brandon Jennings is still a desire for most Knicks fans, but for now, Calderon has been able to hold onto his spot.
Fisher said he’s more than comfortable in knowing Calderon is his lead guard.
“Jose’s doing his job, [and] doing everything I ask of him,’’ Fisher said, adding he can relate to being in Calderon’s shoes as a guy that’s asked to play in a system that might not highlight his strengths. “Critics are going to come if you’re struggling, but the equalizer is winning. It’s always about winning. Then, they can’t say anything, even if you’re only scoring two points. If you lead your team to victory, that’s all that matters.”
Calderon said Fisher’s message has been heard, loud and clear.
“I can only be me. This is who I am. I do my best every night, whatever is asked of me,” Calderon said, noting his role is totally different from that of a Steph Curry or Russell Westbrook type point guard. “Some nights it works out for me and I’m shooting the ball well, and other nights it’s not. But I try my best every night … I know people want a 30-point a night point guard, but that’s not me.’’
-The Knicks were scouting Toure' Murry at the D-League Showcase over the weekend. If the name sounds familiar, Murry played 51 games with the team during the 2013-14 season. New York currently has an open roster spot, and are looking to upgrade the point guard position. Murry is currently playing for the Texas Legends.
-Porzingis is the forgiving type, as he noted that he finally got the chance to meet the young fan who took the ‘crying selfie’ at the 2015 NBA Draft when Porzingis was selected No. 4: “He acted like my No. 1 fan,” Porzingis said.