The Boston Celtics' 118-116 victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden had to bring a smile to the face of many in the NBA offices. It was a thrilling game on national television between two hot teams who play in two of the nation's biggest markets.
Yankees-Red Sox games are always a revenue generator for Major League Baseball and the networks that carry its games. The NBA would love to see the same kind of New York-Boston rivalry in its league.
However, a rivalry is spawned from teams playing meaningful games and the Celtics and Knicks haven't met in the playoffs since 1990. Thus, it was no wonder the Celtics were downplaying rivalry talk.
"It's a rivalry?" swingman Paul Pierce said. "You all are letting me in on all the new stuff. I didn't know we had a rivalry going."
"I don't know what that is, the whole rivalry thing, because it really hasn't been one," coach Doc Rivers said. "We both were bad for a while; we've been good for a while. The two teams haven't exactly matched for a long time."
Boston forward Glen Davis thinks that any talk of a rivalry is coming from the Knicks' side as they haven't been to the playoffs since 2004. On the other hand, the Celtics won the Eastern Conference last season and beat the Lakers in the Finals in 2008.
"When you're the predator, a lot of people try to take you out," Davis said. "The Knicks are trying to get our spot."
New York had a eight-game winning streak end Wednesday night while the Celtics ran theirs to 11. However, Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire did not consider it a lost evening.
"I guarantee you that Boston respects us," Stoudemire said. "We're no slouches. We are going to play every single night until the horn goes off and Boston knows it."
If nothing else, the Knicks figure that playing in a game that led off all of the sports highlight shows is a sign that the franchise is on the way back.
"We went through 10 years of not much fun to get to this spot," New York coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Now, from here, we get better. We're a young team that can improve as is. Again, this is only the middle of December, so things will get better for sure."
The Knicks will get another chance to prove themselves Friday night when they host the Miami Heat, which has won 10 straight games.
Sacramento Struggling in Second Halves
The Sacramento Kings are in a free fall as they have lost 17 of their 19 games. Wednesday night, they blew a 23-point third-quarter lead in a loss to the Hornets in New Orleans, continuing a disturbing trend in which the Kings keep falling apart in the second half.
"It's a real problem and we don't seem to know how to stop it," forward Carl Landry said. "It's awful. We just blow leads."
Added coach Paul Westphal, "We're in games, and then all of a sudden, we're down 10. Things start snowballing a little bit and we can't seem to stop the avalanche."
Sacramento has fallen to 5-18. That is second-worst record in the league behind the Los Angeles Clippers' 5-21 mark. The Clippers, though, have won both meetings with the Kings this season.
"It shows how young we are and how we need to mature when it comes to runs because that's what the NBA is-—a game or runs," Sacramento forward Jason Thompson said. "At times early in the season we would bounce back, but lately, we've had trouble in the third and fourth quarter, and then it's too late."
Pacers Stumble Against Tough Schedule
The Indiana Pacers have hit the skids recently following their surprisingly good start. They have lost three games in a row by an average margin of 16 points to the Hawks, Bulls and Lakers to fall under .500 at 11-13.
"Every young team is going to have growing pains," guard Darren Collison said. "It's more how you respond to it and you have to meet the challenges every game."
Pacers coach Jim O'Brien realizes his team's talent level doesn’t match up with some of the better teams in the league. However, he is disappointed that he hasn't seen improvement recently.
"I'm not very happy with the way we're competing," O'Brien said. "You can lose to the Lakers, you can lose on the road to Chicago, you can lose on the road to Atlanta, but you have to bring a certain ethic to games, and frankly we haven't been."
Stern Uses Competitive Balance as Negotiating Tactic
NBA commissioner David Stern believes the NBA Players Association will be making a big mistake if the players decide to decertify the union as their bargaining agent as part of a lockout strategy. The move would be made in order for the players to sue the league under federal antitrust laws.
"It’s a very high price to walk away from, in our case at the end of the season, $4 billion in guaranteed contracts," Stern told reporters this week while visiting Memphis.
Stern says his goal in contract negotiations goes beyond just improving the teams' financial standing. He wants to restore competitive balance to the league by remaking the salary cap, using an NFL-like harder cap.
"(Owners) want this league to be as competitive as possible, and they recognize that certain teams will lose the edge that they now have by virtue of generating more money and their willingness to pay taxes," Stern said. "Everybody who owns a team wants to compete, and the pressures are extraordinary to retain your talent. No one wants to say, 'I’m not paying because I represent the second-class franchise.' So we have a system that pushes payments up in ways teams sometimes can’t afford."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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