The longtime rivals don’t have to wait long to start battling for supremacy in the division as they open the season at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
Boston won its fourth consecutive division title following a 56-26 regular season. The Celtics swept New York out of the first round of the playoffs before losing in five games to Miami.
Boston also swept the four-game regular season series.
Despite not winning one game between the two, the Knicks believe talent-wise they can compete with Boston, having added Tyson Chandler to a team that already included forwards Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire.
Chandler brings some needed defensive energy to New York. The Knicks, who went 42-40 last season, were 28th in the league in scoring defense, giving up 105.7 points per game.
While coach Mike D’Antoni has long been known for his high-scoring offenses, the team is preaching defense entering the new season.
“I feel like if we’re as committed as we say we are to winning a championship and really going after that dream, then we’ll be committed on the defensive end, because that’s the only way you can get it done,” said Chandler, who averaged 10.1 points and 9.4 rebounds last season to help Dallas win a championship.
Maybe no team stresses defense more than Boston, which gave up a league-low 91.1 points per game last season.
However, New York may be in good position to overtake Boston with Chandler joining Stoudemire and Anthony to provide the Knicks with arguably the league’s most talented frontcourt.
“We have a chance to do some big things,” he said. “Boston did a great job of guys coming together at the right time in their careers. A lot of things weren’t going their way, but they came together as one and they won a championship.”
Anthony averaged 26.3 points in 27 games for the Knicks after his trade from Denver. He underwent offseason surgeries on his left knee and elbow.
Stoudemire dealt with back issues last season but was still a force, averaging 25.3 points and 8.2 rebounds. A tight NBA schedule could be tough on him, but he said the long lockout may help.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” Stoudemire said. “A great opportunity to heal, get stronger. … I feel like a beast.”
The longer offseason may benefit the aging Celtics early on, but much continues to be made about their ability to compete long term with Allen, age 36, Garnett, 35, and Pierce, 34.
Pierce will miss the opener with a nagging heel injury but hopes to return for Tuesday’s game against Miami, though coach Doc Rivers said his star forward may come off the bench. Sasha Pavlovic will start in Pierce’s place Sunday.
There were already concerns about Boston’s depth even before Pierce’s injury. Jeff Green, who played in 26 games for the Celtics last season following a trade from Oklahoma City, will miss the season to repair an aortic aneurysm. He averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds for Boston.
Rivers has said he’ll have to monitor minutes for his veterans, perhaps none moreso than Garnett.
“We’re all figuring it out. It’s going to be a period where everybody’s adjusting,” Garnett said. “This year will test everybody’s endurance and their willingness.”
While much has been made about the Celtics’ age, their biggest question mark may be Rajon Rondo.
He said the trade talks don’t provide him with additional motivation to dissuade doubters.
“I’m already fueled up,” Rondo said. “This is part of the process. I’m just trying to be a better player.”
Rondo averaged 16.7 assists in three meetings with New York last season.
The Celtics, who have won 20 of 22 against the Knicks including playoffs, are playing on Christmas Day for the fourth straight year. They are 1-2.
“Being at Madison Square Garden on Christmas, it’s pretty exciting,” Garnett said.