There's no love lost between the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, making for an intriguing potential matchup in the first round of the playoffs.
"Let's just be quite frank about them," Carmelo Anthony said after the Knicks beat the Celtics 100-85 on the road Tuesday. "We always want to beat Boston. New York in anything wants to beat Boston, and when we do it's a great feeling."
With the team streaking and J.R. Smith on a roll the league hasn't seen in quite a while, New York looks to win a season series with Boston for the first time in nine years Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
This rivalry has been heated for many seasons, and this one has been no different. Anthony and Kevin Garnett had an on-court run-in during Boston's 102-96 road victory Jan. 7, leading to a one-game suspension for Anthony after he allegedly tried to confront Garnett following the game.
New York (45-26) proceeded to win the next two meetings in Boston and is on the verge of winning the season series for the first time since 2003-04 - the season before Doc Rivers became Celtics coach.
Sunday may not be the last matchup between the teams in 2013, though. The Knicks are battling Indiana for the Eastern Conference's second seed for the playoffs, while the Celtics (38-34) currently sit in seventh place.
Smith hit a clutch 3-pointer that helped New York earn an 89-86 win over Boston on Jan. 24 before scoring 32 points Tuesday.
The Celtics, who have been without Garnett the last four games because of left ankle inflammation, haven't been the only ones unable to slow Smith. He had 35 points in a 108-101 win over Memphis on Wednesday before scoring a season-high 37 in Friday's 111-102 victory over Charlotte.
Smith became the first player to have three straight 30-point performances off the bench since Milwaukee's Ricky Pierce did it in 1990. He's averaging 26.4 points - nearly nine above his season average - during New York's seven-game winning streak.
"He is focused. He is dialed in. Locked in," said Anthony, who added 32 points and 11 rebounds Friday. "He is playing extremely well and his confidence is sky high. We are following his lead."
Smith said it's simply his opportunity to step up.
"We have so many threats out there," said Smith, shooting 58.3 percent over the last three games. "So depending on who's got it going, it just so happens it's my turn."
The Knicks, who haven't won eight in a row since Nov. 28-Dec. 12, 2010, may need to work on finishing games as well as they've been starting them. For the second straight contest Friday, they built a 30-point lead only to wind up winning by single digits.
"At the end of the day, we've got to find ways to close games better," guard Raymond Felton said. "Against a team that might be a little bit better than the Bobcats, it could go either way."
Though battling injuries, Boston is sure to provide tough competition. It has won two straight following a five-game skid after Paul Pierce recorded his ninth career triple-double in Friday's 118-107 win over Atlanta.
While Pierce had 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, Jeff Green scored 27 and Jason Terry added 24 off the bench.
"It has to come from everybody," Pierce said. "Due to the injuries, guys are getting opportunities."
One of them is Green, averaging 22.0 points in six starts since Garnett originally got hurt in mid-March.
The 35-year-old Pierce, who has missed only one game this season, is averaging 28.0 points over his last six games versus the Knicks.
"Paul just gets everybody involved," guard Avery Bradley said. "I love playing with him. He just wants to win."
New York winning games in this series has depended greatly on Anthony's production. Of the last seven meetings, Anthony has averaged 32.3 points in the Knicks' four victories and 23.7 on 34.4 percent shooting in their three losses.