One team is young, revamped and looking to climb the ranks of the Eastern Conference this season. The other is familiar, rapidly aging, and looking to cling to its status as a legitimate title contender in the NBA.
On Wednesday night, they'll get their first look at each other.
The Celtics travel to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday for their first meeting with the New York Knicks, who spent millions this offseason gutting their roster and rebuilding with title contention in mind. They'll run into a C's team that already knows a thing or two about playing for a championship.
The Celtics will field a starting five on Wednesday night whose youngest member, Rajon Rondo, will turn 25 midway through this season. The other four are on the wrong side of 30. The Knicks counter with a raw five-man unit whose senior citizen, Amare Stoudemire, is 27. Most of Stoudemire's teammates are still too young to rent a car.
The Celtics have run with the same four-man nucleus of Rondo and their veteran Big Three for over three years now, ever since the trade that brought Kevin Garnett to Boston in July 2007. The Knicks have scrapped everything, rebuilding around two new free agents (Stoudemire and Raymond Felton) and an unheralded rookie center out of Russia (Timofey Mozgov).
The Celtics have won two Eastern Conference titles in three years, and they're one of maybe three teams with a legitimate shot to represent the East in the Finals next spring. The Knicks haven't made the playoffs in six years — but they have their sights set on that goal now.
Over the course of this upcoming season, we'll answer a lot of questions about these enigmatic Knicks. How good are they? How big of a step forward can they possibly take after last year's 53-loss abomination? How much better is Stoudemire than David Lee, who was less flashy but gave the Knicks all the energy and rebounding ability they could ever ask for? How ready is Felton to reach the postseason with a second team in a second consecutive season? How strong is this supporting cast?
All this and more, we'll find out in due time.
One way to test these Knicks is to pit them against the Celtics, the three-time defending Atlantic Division champions, and see what they can do. We'll find out how Stoudemire does when matched up with Garnett, the toughest defensive power forward on the planet. We'll get a look at Felton versus Rondo, the masterful on-ball defender. We'll see if Mozgov is up to a matchup with Shaquille O'Neal, who made his NBA debut back when the Russian was six years old.
The Knicks are likely the Celtics' stiffest competition in the division this season. It'll be good for the C's to get a good look, up close and personal, at what they're up against.
The C's are 3-1, having just lost 103-92 to the Sixers for the first blemish on their preseason record. The Knicks are 1-1, with a loss to the Timberwolves and a win over Olimpia Milano, the Italian team for which D'Antoni once played.
Both teams are entering a rough stretch of preseason games — for the Celtics, this game is the third of five over seven days in five different cities, and for the Knicks, this is the first of six contests in 10 days.
Neither side will be at full strength, and neither will be in ideal game shape for the regular season. But both teams will be raring to go for this one nonetheless — it's Boston, it's New York, and it's a great contrast between two of the most intriguing teams in the NBA.