Many people would argue it's been awhile since the New York Knicks were relevant for anything other than Spike Lee. And that it's been even longer since the Knicks and the Boston Celtics played a meaningful game against each other.
But both of those are about to change. Two of the NBA‚Äôs original franchises square off tonight at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) in a match-up some are labeling a renewed rivalry and others are vehemently playing down.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a rivalry?‚ÄĚ Celtics guard Paul Pierce jokingly asked reporters after practice Tuesday. ‚ÄúMan, ya‚Äôll are letting me in on all the new stuff, all the talk. I didn‚Äôt know we had a rivalry going.‚ÄĚ
For the most part, they haven‚Äôt. Since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined up with Pierce in Boston, the Celtics have won 11 of 13 games against the Knicks, while New York has been known primarily for its losses over that period ‚Äď whether they be on the court, in a court or in The King‚Äôs court.
But the Knicks are now amid a renaissance led by free-agent addition and early MVP candidate Amar‚Äôe Stoudemire. New York has won 13 of its last 14 games and eight in a row, marking the team‚Äôs longest winning streak in more than 16 years.
Not to be outdone, the Celtics own a 10-game winning streak themselves ‚Äď the NBA‚Äôs longest tear after the Dallas Mavericks‚Äô 12-game streak was snapped Monday.
"They're probably going to be extremely fired up for this game and I'm hoping our guys can match that intensity," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
The Celtics are the reigning Eastern Conference champions and won a title back in 2008, while the Knicks haven‚Äôt made the playoffs since 2004 and haven‚Äôt been considered a power to reckon with since the mid-90s.
But this year, the Knicks are averaging a league-high 108.5 points per game and added Stoudemire, who has scored more than 30 points in each of New York‚Äôs eight consecutive victories.
As for Pierce, he‚Äôs still not ready to use the ‚Äúr‚ÄĚ word just yet in describing tonight‚Äôs much-anticipated game.
"Hey, if that's what y'all want it to be, if it'll sell more tickets and get more viewers, then I guess so," he said. "You all make up the rivalries, we don't. To be honest, New York is playing well, they're in our division, and both teams are streaking, so it's going to be an exciting game."
Expect Spike front and center.
What to watch (all times Eastern):
Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat (7:30 p.m., Fox Sun Sports)
Round 2 of LeBron vs. Cleveland begins tonight, but this time in Miami. The Heat hasn‚Äôt lost since notching a 118-90 victory against LeBron‚Äôs old team on Dec. 2.
Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks (9:30 p.m., ESPN)
After blowing a 25-point lead and having their 12-game winning streak snapped, the Mavericks look to get back in the win column against the Blazers, who have lost eight of their last 12 games.
BY THE NUMBERS
17 ‚Äď Inches of snow that crushed the Metrodome‚Äôs roof and will force the Minnesota Vikings to play their Monday night game against the Chicago Bears at the University of Minnesota‚Äôs TCF Bank Stadium.
$750,000 ‚Äď Amount the New York Yankees paid to sign former Chicago Cubs pitcher Mark Prior to a one-year deal a day after losing out in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes. The Yankees had offered Lee a seven-year deal worth $148 million.
205 ‚Äď Consecutive games Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has started, 93 shy of Brett Farve‚Äôs record mark. SI.com‚Äôs Peter King writes why he thinks Manning will ultimately break Favre‚Äôs storied record.