GREENBURGH, N.Y. –– The Knicks haven’t won an Atlantic Division title in 19 years.
The Celtics have won five in a row.
Tonight the first place Knicks (23-10, 13-3 at home) will try to take another step toward separating themselves from the Celtics (16-17. 6-11 road) by winning the first encounter between the teams this year.
“Tonight is a big game. Anytime you have the opportunity to face a division rival and be able to gain a full game, it’s always good,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler said.
The Knicks enter the day 4 1/2 games ahead of Brooklyn and seven ahead of the Celtics for the division lead.
“That was the first goal coming into training camp, was to win our division,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “We still got a long road ahead of us but I like the position we’re sitting in today but you win you’re division, you open up first round here at home and you start that playoff run. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Knicks have won two straight, including Saturday’s win in Orlando in which Carmelo Anthony had his third 40+-point outing of the season by going for 40.
Despite missing six games with a variety of injuries, Anthony is the NBA’s second-leading scorer at 29.3 points per game.
Asked to sum up Anthony’s play this season in one word, Chandler said, “One word? How about three letters? How about MVP.”
The Celtics swept the Knicks out of the playoffs in 2011 but are not where they want to be this season. They have won two straight since inserting guard Avery Bradley into the starting lineup following off-season surgery on both shoulders. He joins Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett in the lineup.
Rondo is coming off a triple-double in Saturday’s 89-81 win at Atlanta. He also leads the NBA in assists.
“He presents problems for every team, not just our team because he’s a floor general,” Woodson said. “He runs their ballclub and he’s been great at it.”
The Knicks are already without point guard Raymond Felton (fractured pinkie) and would probably like to have Iman Shumpert to help defend Rondo, but Shumpert remains out as he comes back from ACL surgery.
Shumpert recently said he hopes to come back in the next few weeks, but Woodson said there was no word on the latest medical test results on Shumpert.
“I haven’t gotten wind of it today yet so we’re still in a holding pattern for that,” Woodson said.
Woodson also plans to start Marcus Camby for the third straight game.
This is just the first of four meetings between the rivals, but the Knicks can make a statement with a win at home against the five-time division winners.
“The first goal has to be to win the division,” Chandler said. “That way we secure homecourt in the first round. It will be a big plus for us.”