The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks will play at least their next five games against each other, but the first one will look considerably different than the rest.
Both teams may rest starters when they finish the regular season Wednesday night at TD Garden, the same place where they'll open the playoffs this weekend.
"We just have to stay healthy," Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups said Tuesday. "Nothing we can really accomplish tomorrow to be honest with you, just kind of stay healthy. Tomorrow to me is nothing. (In the playoffs) everything will be different, intensity will be different, players will be more focused, it will be a totally different game."
Boston (55-26) is locked into the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Knicks (42-39) are assured of finishing sixth, which means the clubs will square off in the postseason for the first time since 1990.
That result, along with the Heat's win over Atlanta, clinched the No. 2 seed for Miami. Boston coach Doc Rivers said it was a difficult decision, but that resting his All-Star quartet -- something he plans to do again Wednesday -- was more important than seeding.
Rivers said he's looking to "reset the team," which is embroiled in a 9-11 stretch that includes lopsided losses to Chicago and Miami in the past week.
"Mostly it's mental, all the time, with anybody on any team," Rivers said. "They're the best conditioned athletes in the world, so I don't believe in the whole getting-tired theory unless you're allowing yourself to get tired. They just need the rest. And the break. The whole reason is it allows us to have practice with energy, and we need that more than anything."
New York's Amare Stoudemire has needed time to rest his sprained left ankle, which may keep him out of a fourth straight game Wednesday, although he is expected to return for the playoffs.
The Knicks still managed to extend their winning streak to seven before losing 103-90 at home to the Bulls on Tuesday. They led by three at halftime, but Chicago began the third quarter on a 26-2 run.
"They came out and made a run at us in the second half," Billups said. "You could tell that they were playing for something."
Coach Mike D'Antoni's plans for Billups and Carmelo Anthony in the finale are unclear. Anthony has been outstanding lately, averaging 30.3 points on 49.0 percent shooting in his last nine games.
While the Knicks can't exactly send a message by beating Boston's reserves, they wouldn't mind avoiding a season-series sweep. The Celtics have won the first three meetings, although they were decided by an average of just 5.3 points.
The Knicks haven't won in Boston since Nov. 24, 2006, losing eight straight there -- seven since the Celtics acquired Garnett and Allen.
Ray Allen will likely rest tonight, but even if he plays he will need to go 41 for 41 from the FT line to keep his streak of consecutive seasons with a 90.0 FT pct alive. His streak of 5 will be tied with Reggie Miller, 1 shy of the NBA record set by Rick Barry.