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NBA Preview: Boston Celtics (44-17) at New York Knicks (35-27)

One of the earliest highlights of the New York Knicks’ season-saving surge was their victory over the Boston Celtics a month ago.

As the NBA’s best team enters yet another potentially pivotal stretch, the Celtics will host the Knicks on Monday night in a rematch of their long-standing rivalry. The Knicks will attempt to maintain their ascent into the playoff race for the Eastern Conference’s top spots.

After securing victories on Saturday night, both teams took Sunday off. In a thrilling back-and-forth contest, the Celtics defeated the visiting Philadelphia 76ers 110-107, while the Knicks defeated the visiting New Orleans Pelicans by a score of 128-106.

The Knicks won for the fifth time in a row, going 10-4 since January 24 to move up to sixth place in the Eastern Conference and the last playoff spot that is guaranteed.

New York was two and a half games ahead of the seventh-place Miami Heat, half a game behind the fifth-place Brooklyn Nets, and two and a half games behind the fourth-place Cleveland Cavaliers when the game started on Sunday. Home-court advantage in the playoffs’ first round will go to the top four teams.

The Knicks have won four of the five teams in front of them in the East, including the Celtics, who New York beat 120-117 in overtime on the road on January 26.

The Knicks will play the Celtics twice, the Nets twice, and the Heat once over the course of this week’s four games. The two teams are scheduled to play again next Sunday at Boston.

Since their loss to the Knicks, the Celtics, who are the defending champions of the Eastern Conference, have gone 9-2, giving them another taste of the intensity of the postseason. They are still ahead of the pack in the race for the No. 1 spot thanks to the run. 1 seed.

On Sunday, Boston was one game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks, who were in second place, and four games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers, who were in third place.

The Celtics fell behind 67-52 early in the third quarter Saturday against the 76ers before mounting a 45-20 run to take a 97-87 lead midway through the fourth after squandering a 10-point halftime lead and defeating the Indiana Pacers 142-138 in overtime on Thursday night.

The Celtics’ Jayson Tatum scored the game-winning 26-footer with 1.3 seconds remaining after the 76ers stormed back. After that, Philadelphia superstar Joel Embiid hit a 75-footer that could have tied the game, but the ball didn’t leave his hand before the buzzer.

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