Celtics face Knicks, hope to remain in first place

NEW YORK -- The Boston Celtics, clinging to first place in the Eastern Conference, will be without guard Avery Bradley when they meet the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

Bradley did not travel with the team after missing the Orlando contest Friday with a recurrence of the stomach illness that cost him a game earlier in the Celtics' homestand, where they went 5-1.

Bradley will miss his 27th game this season for the Celtics (49-27). An Achilles injury sidelined him for a significant period before the All-Star break. Rookie Jaylen Brown will likely start against the Knicks (29-47). He had 12 points and four rebounds Friday night while filling in for Bradley.

Boston leads the Cleveland Cavaliers by a half-game atop the Eastern Conference standings.

With Bradley out and Amir Johnson battling an ankle injury after landing on Nikola Vucevic's foot in the first quarter of Boston's 117-116 win against the Magic, Boston coach Brad Stevens is thinking about how he will distribute the playing time among his remaining players.

"I feel really good about where we are in the big picture," Stevens told the Boston Herald. "And our trainers and strength/conditioning guys and everyone else is talking with the guys on a day-to-day basis to make sure they feel really good.

"It's not just what you're doing in a game. So I feel really good about where we are from that standpoint. Obviously, we need Avery (Bradley) back and we need him healthy, but the rest thing will come into play if it needs to."

The Knicks were 5-10 in March, but ended the month knocking off two potential playoff teams. They turned back the Detroit Pistons on Monday and defeated the Heat in Miami on Friday. Both teams are fighting for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

New York hasn't won two straight games since Dec. 20 and 22 and will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Knicks would need to go 3-3 in their last six games to match last season's 32-50 mark.

Since the 2000-01 season, the Knicks have won just one playoff series, which is tied with the New Orleans Pelicans for the fewest among any NBA franchise.

Carmelo Anthony has missed three of the last five games. Derrick Rose sat out the win against the Heat on Friday with a sore left knee as coach Jeff Hornacek went with a starting backcourt of Ron Baker and Sasha Vujacic.

Defense has been the issue for the Knicks. They are 23rd in the NBA in steals, leading to being 29th in transition point,s and they allow 15 second-chance points per game, which is next-to-last in the league.

Rose broke down the Knicks' deficiencies to the New York Post.

"Defensively as a whole, not helping each other, schemes, it's a lot of things you can look at," he said. "We were trying to figure out everything at once -- who was going to be out there. A lot of things we had to figure out, but overall we didn't help each other."
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