While the New York Knicks are in danger of falling back to a familiar spot in the standings, the Boston Celtics can’t seem to figure out a way to return to their traditional perch among the elite of the Eastern Conference.
A pair of unexpected contenders for the final playoff spots in the East are scheduled to meet Wednesday when the Celtics continue a seven-game homestand against the Knicks.
Boston will be looking to salvage the second game of a back-to-back set after dropping a 106-96 decision to the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday.
The Knicks aim to rebound after squandering a 14-point lead Monday night in a 116-114 loss to the host Brooklyn Nets.
With their loss Tuesday, the Celtics fell into a tie for seventh place in the East with the Knicks at 25-26. The two teams are just two games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the fourth seed, although Boston and New York have struggled to generate any momentum for the playoff push.
The Celtics, who fell in the Eastern Conference finals last summer for the third time in the past four seasons, have lost nine of their past 15 while continuing to play undermanned due to COVID-19-related issues.
The Celtics were able to string together consecutive lopsided wins over the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Hornets heading into Tuesday’s contest. Boston, however, spotted the 76ers the first seven points and fell behind for good during a 15-0 run by Philadelphia in the second quarter.
The Celtics played without Tristan Thompson for a 12th straight game on Tuesday. They also learned Tuesday morning that Evan Fournier was joining him on the health and safety protocols list.
“It’s a hard year — it’s been a very, very tough year for everybody,” Celtics point guard Kemba Walker said Tuesday night. “You’ve just got to find a way, man. That’s all you can do. When guys go down, you’ve got to kind of expect guys to kind of step their games up and to help other guys play better.”
The Knicks also hoped an easy win would help them snap a skid that has threatened to dampen one of the NBA’s early season success stories. New York hasn’t made the playoffs since 2013 and already has won more games than either of the previous two seasons.
But the Knicks, who rolled to their most lopsided win since 1996 in a 125-81 win over the Detroit Pistons Saturday night, lost for the fourth time in five games Monday. In fact, they frittered away a double-digit lead for the third time in that span.
New York led the Minnesota Timberwolves by 13 points in the fourth quarter of a 102-101 loss on March 31. The Knicks also claimed a 13-point lead in the second quarter against the Dallas Mavericks last Friday before dropping a 99-86 decision.
“It’s either a win or a loss,” Knicks power forward Julius Randle said Monday night. “There are not really any moral victories.”