BOSTON — On paper, a visit by the lowly New York Knicks should be just what the doctor ordered for the struggling Boston Celtics.
But the way things have gone for the Eastern Conference favorites this season, even an appearance by the Knicks (4-14) doesn’t mean anything is guaranteed.
After losing at Charlotte on Monday night, the Celtics are 9-8 and have been called “the biggest disappointment” in the NBA by former star turned television commentator Paul Pierce.
They are 3-6 in their last nine games.
“There are a lot of expectations from everyone,” Boston’s Al Horford said Tuesday. “Maybe when we don’t fulfill those guys tend to get down. That’s an area where we have to grow as a group. … We’ve underperformed. Right now we have to work through it together. It’s a different challenge.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he saw positive things in Monday’s 117-112 road loss.
“It’s not a matter of ‘want to’ as it was a matter of simple execution and honing habits,” Stevens said. “I was more encouraged by that game. In fact, I thought we probably played better (vs. Charlotte) than we did in the Toronto game (a win).
“There’s little things we can clean up. When I watched it again last night it was a step in the right direction, which was encouraging. But, obviously, still not where we want to be.”
The Knicks gave the West-leading Portland Trail Blazers all they could handle at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, but dropped their sixth straight game — largely thanks to missed free throws in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve been through a lot of losing streaks,” New York’s Enes Kanter said after the latest loss. “The most important thing is not to fall apart. Stay together and keep fighting. Don’t make any excuses. If you’re going to lose a game, just make them feel us first.”
The Knicks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. delivered his third straight 30-point game in the latest loss and has 94 points in the three games. Noah Vonleh, who hails from Haverhill, Mass., had 14 points and 14 rebounds Tuesday.
“Finishing is our No. 1 priority right now,” New York’s Trey Burke said. “We’re playing teams all the way down to the wire and we’re coming up short and that’s been the ongoing story all year.”
Coach David Fizdale made a lineup switch for Tuesday’s game. He had started three rookies in the previous two contests but switched Tuesday, inserting Kanter, Vonleh and Mario Hezonja.
Before the game, Kanter said, “We just need to win a game. First unit, leading the second unit. Whatever, we just need to go out and win games. That’s the most important thing. The coach is always trying to change something. He’s figuring out what’s best for us.”
Back on Oct. 20, the Celtics survived a wild finish to escape with a 103-101 victory over the Knicks at MSG as Jayson Tatum recorded 24 points and 14 rebounds.
The Celtics won both games against the Knicks at home last year and are 5-1 over New York in the last three seasons at TD Garden. They are 4 1/2 games behind the Toronto Raptors in the standings.