The Knicks know who they’re, and so they know who they wish to be. They’re a great workforce that’s in a affluent stretch — 5 wins in a row, seven out of eight, 17-9 since they have been final at .500 three days earlier than the New 12 months. They’re a great workforce with ambitions of being superb.

The Celtics checked the containers for “good” and “superb” a very long time in the past. They’re an important workforce that fell two victories shy of including an 18th championship banner final summer time, and most nights they seem like an awfully good selection to be driving in duck boats by the streets of Boston come late June.

The Celtics sit in first-class; the Knicks are nonetheless in coach.

It’s what makes Monday evening at Madison Sq. Backyard a lot enjoyable. The Knicks will probably be taking a step up at school, a middleweight difficult a heavyweight. There is no such thing as a belt on the road and little on the desk; the Celtics are 10 video games away from the Knicks within the loss column. The Knicks’ neighborhood contains the Cavaliers to the north, the Nets subsequent door, the Warmth and Hawks and Raptors to the south.

Nonetheless, it is a probability. This is a chance. It is a evening when the Knicks can present a little bit extra testimony that they are often greater than only a good little story come April, when the video games begin to matter a complete lot extra.

Julius Randle drives to the rim in the course of the Knicks’ win over the Pelicans on Feb. 25.

“We’re taking part in properly,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau mentioned the opposite evening, “however on this league you’d higher not take an evening off as a result of groups will make you pay once you do.”

The Celtics will make you pay, even once they’re banged up. Boston introduced on Sunday that they are going to be with out Jaylen Brown on the Backyard due to private causes. However the Celtics have confirmed all 12 months that they will maintain successful even once they’re down a starter or two, down a star or two.

And if the sport doesn’t imply a lot in a tangible sense to the Celtics … it’s nonetheless the Backyard. It’s nonetheless New York Metropolis. And the Celtics are nonetheless the alpha canine within the Jap Convention that wouldn’t thoughts sending a message to a batch of feisty Knicks, feeling their oats:

Keep in your lane.

And never the passing lane.

Jayson Tatum and the Celtics presently have the most effective file within the NBA.
Getty Photographs

“We anticipate loads out of one another,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum mentioned Saturday evening in Philadelphia, after he hit a clutch game-winning 3 (and after Joel Embiid’s 70-foot heave splashed simply after the ultimate buzzer). “We belief one another, and we all know each recreation everybody has to contribute.”

That Celtics-76ers recreation Saturday — a 110-107 Boston win — was a reminder of exactly what the caste system within the East appears like. The Bucks received once more Sunday, their 14th straight, to remain a half-game behind the Celtics (44-17). The Sixers, at 39-20, be a part of these two groups because the acknowledged prime flight. And that isn’t more likely to change.

However now the Knicks discover themselves with a chance to be very a lot within the dialog for the subsequent stage. The Nets’ buzzer-beating loss in Atlanta Sunday drew the Knicks even with them for fifth within the East (even when the Nets’ nonetheless have a .002 edge in successful share). They’re 2 ½ video games again of Cleveland for the fourth seed.

Ending fourth or fifth is a big carrot to pursue as a result of it lets you keep away from the Prime Three within the first spherical. Once more: For the Celtics, that’s extra a formality than a purpose as a result of they’ve received at the least one playoff collection 5 of the final six years. For the Knicks? That may be a big leap ahead.

Jalen Brunson shoots a bounce shot in the course of the Knicks’ win over the Pelicans on Feb. 25.

In order that they inhabit completely different photo voltaic methods right here. However in the identical manner generations of suburban bounce shooters have dipped cautious toes within the water on the West 4th Avenue or Rucker playgrounds in quest of stronger competitors, so will the Knicks interact the Celtics on what guarantees to be a snowy Monday evening, in what should be a crowded constructing, taking part in in addition to they’ve in years.

“I feel it’s actually the chemistry outdoors of after we are taking part in basketball,” Immanuel Quickley mentioned of the workforce’s current vibe. “On the airplane, in observe, lodges, in every single place we’re, we’re actually tied collectively, and it’s main onto the courtroom. We’ve got a whole lot of chemistry on this locker room.”

And have begun to generate a whole lot of buzz on the town. Excellent time for a go to from the Celtics. Excellent time to see how the Knicks dimension as much as the varsity.