Celtics and Knicks kick off NBA season

Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett grabs a rebound as New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire...

Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett grabs a rebound as New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire leaps over Celtics forward Glen Davis in the third quarter of Game 4 their NBA Eastern Conference playoff basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York, April 24, 2011. (REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

SPORTS NETWORK

, Last Updated: 11:53 AM ET

A refurbished Madison Square Garden hosts the NBA's first contest in a lockout-shortened season when the New York Knicks play host to their longtime rival Boston on Christmas Day.

A revamped Knicks club featuring an impressive front line of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and new center Tyson Chandler hopes to finally put an end to the C's Atlantic Division dominance this season.

New York returned to the postseason last year after a seven-year drought thanks in large part to the offseason signing of Stoudemire and the in-season deal that brought them 'Melo from Denver. However, that dynamic duo was not enough to even compete with the veteran-laden C's in the playoffs, as the Knicks were swept by Boston in the first round following a 42-40 campaign, their first winning season since 2000-01. The Celtics also swept New York in the regular season and has won eight of nine overall against Boston.

The thought was that even with those moves the Knicks were still a year away from seriously competing since everyone assumed they would make a strong push for point guard Chris Paul next summer. The Knicks, though, never thought that was a feasible plan and instead shifted gears, going after one of the best free agent available this year in Chandler, landing the big man with a four- year, $58 million deal.

"I think for us, the sky's the limit," Anthony said. "I think the organization did a great job of just building a very unique front court. We're ready to take on the challenges that are to come. Line 'em up. We're ready to play."

Chandler instantly gives the Knicks a defensive presence in the middle and will only make Stoudemire better with him being able to move back to his normal power forward position. The Knicks now have their own "Big Three" and feel they are ready for a serious run at an Eastern Conference crown.

The four-time defending Atlantic Division champion Celtics, of course, are in the way and have been atop of the NBA food chain since putting together its own tremendous trio of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Piece before the 2007-08 season. But, it's all about windows in Beantown these days.

Four years removed from the franchise's last NBA title, the clock is ticking on this version of the Celtics. Garnett, Allen and Pierce are all on the downsides of brilliant careers and the front office has seemingly soured a bit on its one ascending star, point guard Rajon Rondo.

Concerned with reported "maturity" issues, the C's shopped Rondo before training camp in the hopes of luring Paul to town, a move that was stillborn when the All-Star, who eventually landed in LA with the Clippers, made it clear he had no intentions of signing a long-term extension with the Celtics.

Problems aside, the Celtics certainly still have enough talent to dominate a slowly improving Atlantic but the condensed 66-game schedule is not expected to do the legs of aging players any favors.

Doc Rivers' ability to navigate things and keep his veterans fresh for one last run will be the key in helping Boston keep its "window" ajar for one more season.

To that end Pierce didn't practice Friday while resting a nagging heel injury. The Kansas product may not play this afternoon and with Jeff Green already out for the season due to an aortic aneurysm, Rivers would be forced to go with Sasha Pavlovic.

"I can tell you this, it's very unlikely [Pierce] will start if he plays," Rivers said. "If he does play, he'll play 15 to 20 minutes, but right now, I don't see him playing."

The Knicks have played a record 46 Christmas Day games and are 21-25 all-time, including a 20-19 mark at MSG. Boston, meanwhile, has played 26 of its 27 Christmas Day games on the road and the club is 10-16 in those encounters.

12/25 10:33:05 ET

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