NBA Basketball

Celtics next up in trying to add to Knicks' woes

Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, following a disappointing loss in Orlando on Jan. 12, called out his younger teammates about not understanding what it takes to be a championship-level team.

In the last two games, those younger teammates have stepped up while Irving has been out with a strained left hip.

The Celtics are hopeful Irving can return by Friday's visit to the New York Knicks -- who are on a team-record 12-game home losing streak and just shipped away their star player in a bombshell trade on Thursday -- although it is possible they may hold him out again.

The Celtics are 6-2 in games without Irving after getting home wins over the Brooklyn Nets and Charlotte Hornets.

Terry Rozier has started for Irving in the past two games; he had 17 points, 10 assists and three steals in Wednesday's 126-94 win over Charlotte. Jaylen Brown also produced a pair of big games in Irving's absence with 45 total points. Jayson Tatum scored 20 on Wednesday.

"When we play with him (Irving), it's more like a show. Sit back and watch him go crazy," Rozier said. "Without him, obviously we don't know who the scoring's (going to) really come from. Somebody got to step up."

The Celtics (32-19) are 7-2 in their last nine games since Irving's comments and won 10 of 11 home games in January. After Friday, Boston returns home to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday afternoon, so it is entirely possible Irving sits against the free-falling Knicks in order to rest up for a more challenging game.

Irving, who was injured in the first half of Saturday's 115-111 home loss to the Golden State Warriors, is averaging 28.9 points in his past seven games. His injured hip and recent scoring average are not the only reasons he has been in the news.

Irving, a free agent after this season, has said he plans on re-signing with the Celtics, but that could now be contingent on the team's ability to acquire Anthony Davis either before next Thursday's trade deadline or in the offseason. Another report has Irving being "genuinely interested" in a reunion with LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers.

On his weekly radio appearance in Boston, general manager Danny Ainge addressed the various speculation about Irving.

"I talk to Kyrie all the time. My feelings have not changed. I feel like Kyrie likes it in Boston, but I certainly can't talk about Kyrie's impending free agency. That's taboo, and we won't know anything until July for certain. But I'm optimistic."

The Knicks (10-40) will play their first game after trading All-Star big man Kristaps Porzingis (and Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke) to the Dallas Mavericks for two first-round picks, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr. and DeAndre Jordan. The news of the trade emerged rapidly, after reports earlier in the day that Porzingis -- who has yet to play this year as he recovers from a torn ACL -- had met with Knicks management to express that he'd prefer to be traded.

The Knicks also enter Friday with the league's worst record. They are on a 11-game losing streak since beating the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 4 and are winless at home since beating Milwaukee in double-overtime on Dec. 1.

New York's latest setback was a 114-90 home loss, coincidentally to the Mavericks, on Wednesday night. The Knicks were outscored 59-43 in the second half, when it allowed Dallas to get to the rim at will.

"What I saw midway through the third, we started feeling sorry for ourselves," Knicks coach David Fizdale said. "We gave in to the losing tonight. It's eating at everyone."

Rookie Kevin Knox led the Knicks with 17 points but was 6-of-16 from the floor. Trey Burke was the starting point guard for the second straight game and added 16 points, but Tim Hardaway Jr. was held to six points on 2-of-11 shooting.

The Celtics are 11-4 in the last 15 meetings with the Knicks. In Boston's first visit this season to New York on Oct. 20, Tatum scored 24 in a 103-101 victory.

--Field Level Media

Updated January 31, 2019

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