GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Larry Bird was in his first year of retirement, Patrick Ewing was in his prime and NBA players still wore those goofy-looking shorts that made their legs look as if they were on stilts.

It's been 18 long years since the Boston Celtics and the Knicks both had teams that finished the season with winning records. Since the 1992-93 season, there has been no real rivalry as both franchises went through protracted down periods at different times.

A new chapter in the storied franchises could be written Wednesday night, however, when the Knicks host the defending conference champions. The Knicks enter the game as the feel-good story of the local sports season, having won eight in a row and 13 of their last 14. The two teams are first and second in the Atlantic Division with the first-place Celtics having won 10 games in a row themselves.

Early Tuesday, Boston's Paul Pierce brushed off the notion that his team has a rivalry with the Knicks, a club that has been to the playoffs only once in the last 10 years. "It's a rivalry?" he sniffed when asked about playing the Knicks. "I didn't know we had a rivalry going."

While most of the Knicks backed that notion up by being deferential when talking about the Celtics, newcomer Raymond Felton took the opposite tact.


"They're going to be in a dogfight tomorrow night. You better believe that," Felton said after practice. "I hope they're ready to play because we're going to be ready to play."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The addition of Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire has transformed the Knicks from a franchise that was struggling to rebuild for the past decade to one that believes it might be able to play with the big boys. Stoudemire has scored 30 or more points in all eight games of the Knicks' win streak. But unlike Felton, he doesn't think the Knicks can call themselves rivals of a perennial power like the Celtics yet.

"We have to make our mark first before we start a rivalry," Stoudemire said. "We're just starting to regain some respect as a team right now. We've got no room for rivalries."

Coach Mike D'Antoni also isn't buying into the rivalry notion.

"We haven't done anything yet," he said. "Wait until we do something and wait until we've threatened them. I don't think the Celtics are thinking, 'Oh what a threat this team is.' So we're not there yet."

Felton, however, didn't agree with his coach.

Said the fired-up point guard: "We're there right now. We're playing basketball. I don't understand those questions about are we there yet. We've won eight in a row . . . We're doing better than any other team in this league right now."