Boston Celtics at New York Knicks (-7, 189.5)
Carmelo Anthony won the league's scoring title and is in the discussion for the MVP award, but the superstar forward has a more pressing goal entering the postseason. Anthony has led his teams past the first round of the playoffs only once, and he will attempt to double that number when the No. 2 seed New York Knicks host the Boston Celtics on Saturday in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series. New York won the season series, 3-1.
While the Knicks were white-hot at the end of the season, winning 13 straight and 15 of 16 before Anthony and other key players took the final two games off, Boston staggered down the stretch. The Celtics dropped 11 of their last 16 while stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce took turns sitting out and trying to get healthy. Two of the losses - both by double digits - were against the Knicks in a six-day span last month. Boston won at New York in January, a game that ended with Anthony trying to confront Garnett before he boarded the team bus.
TV: 3 p.m. ET, ABC
ABOUT THE CELTICS (41-40): Garnett (ankle) sat out 10 of the last 13 games, including the two losses to New York in late March. Given that he's Boston's most reliable source of offense among its big men and the team's best interior defender, his health is paramount for the Celtics. Pierce, who likely will be matched up against Anthony, missed three of the last eight games with his own ankle issues. He has also directed the offense at times after point guard Rajon Rondo suffered a season-ending knee injury in late January. Forward Jeff Green has assumed a larger offensive role since Rondo's injury and scored a combined 46 points in the last two meetings with the Knicks.
ABOUT THE KNICKS (54-28): Anthony bounced back from a knee injury in March with a torrid April, becoming the first player to score at least 35 points in six consecutive games. He averaged 25.3 points in four games against Boston but also put up 103 shots and connected on only 34.9 percent. Sixth man J.R. Smith was also magnificent during the 13-game run, putting up five 30-point games during that span, including 32 in a 100-85 victory at Boston on March 26. The Knicks received great news when ailing center Tyson Chandler pronounced himself 100 percent healthy for the playoffs. The 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year had missed 16 of the last 20 games with a neck issue.
* Over is 5-0 in Celtics’ last five overall.
* Celtics are 1-4 ATS in the last five meetings.
* Knicks are 10-1 ATS in their last 11 games vs. a team with a winning record.
* Celtics are 0-4 ATS in their last four vs. NBA Atlantic foes.
1. New York's 54-28 record is the best by the franchise since 1996-97.
2. Boston, which has only one win over a .500 team since March 8, has advanced past the first round of the playoffs in each of the last five seasons.
3. The Knicks signed F Quentin Richardson earlier in the week. He has had altercations with both Pierce and Garnett in the past.
Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets (-4.5, 181)
The Brooklyn Nets have made a stunning transition since departing New Jersey and will open their first playoff series in six years when they host the Chicago Bulls on Saturday. The Eastern Conference series opener is the first major professional sports playoff game held in Brooklyn since the 1956 World Series, when the Dodgers played at Ebbets Field. The Bulls are playoff regulars, making their fifth straight appearance despite being without Derrick Rose the entire season.
Chicago has dealt with a series of injuries while playing well enough to land the fifth seed. The Bulls feel all the hurdles have prepared them for the postseason. “We’ve been thought a lot,” center Joakim Noah said. “We’ve been through a lot. There were a lot of distractions. There was a lot of adversity. A lot of injuries. Regardless of what was thrown at us, we fought hard through it all.” The fourth-seeded Nets had to convince point guard Deron Williams that the franchise was ready to rise to keep him in the offseason and now feel primed to win a series. “It’s good for us – the first season in Brooklyn to be in the playoffs,” Williams said. “That was the goal, and we accomplished that goal. But we’ve still got a ways to go.” Chicago won three of the four regular-season meetings.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, YES (Brooklyn)
ABOUT THE BULLS (45-37): Chicago overcame the loss of Rose, who suffered a major knee injury in last season’s playoffs, to again be part of the postseason. Noah has been bothered with injuries and was laboring down the stretch but plans to gut it out in the playoffs. “During the game, he feels fine,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I think he’s hopeful that he’ll get better and better as we go along. It’s the type of injury where he’s going to have to try to manage it as best as he can.” Chicago was third in the NBA in scoring defense (92.9) and will attempt to slow the pace against the Nets. Boozer averaged 21.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in three games against Brooklyn this season.
ABOUT THE NETS (49-33): Shooting guard Joe Johnson struggled against Chicago’s pesky defense and averaged just 13 points. Williams averaged 19.8 points and 6.8 assists against the Bulls while center Brook Lopez averaged 22 points. This version of the Nets might be new to the postseason but they feel they can make an impact. “I think we know how good we can be,” Brooklyn interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “We’ve had the roster intact at different times. We just need everybody healthy. The playoffs are a different animal – everything starts over.” Power forward Reggie Evans is a difference-maker on the boards and has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in each of his last 18 appearances.
* Underdog is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings.
* Over is 4-1 in Nets’ last five overall.
* Under is 5-1 in Bulls’ last six road games.
* Bulls are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games vs. a team with a winning record.
1. Three of the four regular-season meetings were decided by four or fewer points. Chicago won the other contest by 11 points.
2. Bulls C Joakim Noah (foot) has suffered a setback and is doubtful for Game 1.
3. The Nets last won a playoff game on May 16, 2007, when they beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.