Knicks no longer looking up at Boston Celtics

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony, left, and J.R.

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony, left, and J.R. Smith celebrate on the bench during the second half of a game against the Detroit Pistons. (Nov. 25, 2012) (Credit: AP)

The Boston Celtics dominated the Atlantic Division and the Knicks the previous five years. But it's a new season, and the Celtics are craning their necks looking up at the Knicks.

They're seven games up on Boston, one of the Knicks' chief rivals and the team that bounced them out of the 2011 playoffs in a four-game, first-round sweep. But heading into Monday night's first meeting of the season between the two, the Knicks swear they're not sweating the Celtics anymore.

"It's going to be a big game," Carmelo Anthony said. "Any time New York plays Boston, it's a big game, physical game. We're more concerned about ourselves than the Boston Celtics, just moving forward and getting better. We don't even think about them. No disrespect or anything. We're focused on ourselves."

Both teams have undergone major changes since Boston swept the Knicks in the first round in 2011.

Only Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire remain from that Knicks team, and only six Knicks are left from last season. The Knicks are deeper, have more veterans and are riding Anthony's MVP-caliber season to a 23-10 record.

The Celtics still are led by Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, but Ray Allen is in Miami, and they're 16-17 and in third place in the division.

"It would be a big win," Tyson Chandler said. "But one game in the regular season is still one game in the regular season. You don't want to put too much emphasis on it. It's not a do-or-die game or anything like that. But obviously, it would be a huge win if we can get it at home."

The Knicks are trying to get to where Boston has been. Doc Rivers guided the Celtics to the 2008 NBA title and another Finals trip two years later, when they lost in seven games to the Lakers.

Last season, the Celtics appeared old and close to being broken up. But they were kept together and went to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals before losing to eventual champion Miami.

Even though Boston has been up and down this season, the Knicks believe the Celtics still are dangerous.

"They're a veteran team," Chandler said. "They do things late in the season. There's not much of a sense of urgency for them as far as the regular season goes because they've been together for a long time and they know they can turn it on."

"No, no, no," Jason Kidd said. "They're not done at all. There's a lot of basketball. They got a great coach and they understand what it takes to win."

The Knicks are developing into that kind of team. They beat the Spurs with defense Thursday and erased an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit Saturday to defeat Orlando behind 40 points from Anthony and strong late-game execution.

"I haven't played with a team like this with so many different options out there on the basketball court," Anthony said. "Guys who can make plays for myself and vice versa. Guys who can make shots when they get the basketball and make plays. I haven't played with a team like this."

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