Knicks vs. Celtics 8 PM
Where to Watch: TNT
Where to Listen: ESPN 1050 AM
New York: In a physical and potential playoff preview against Miami on Sunday, the Knicks suffered their first defeat in 10 straight games at Madison Square Garden. Tyson Chandler suffered a knee bruise in the loss but the big man finished the contest and assured reporters he will suit up for the home game on Tuesday night. The bright side of Sunday’s defeat was the continued spectacular play of Carmelo Anthony. After dropping 43 points just four days earlier, the All-Star posted 42 on the Heat, the most individual points against Miami this season. Anthony is red-hot with Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin sidelined. Speaking of Stoudemire, the Knicks power forward participated in practice and a return to the floor could occur in the near future. As of Monday night, New York sits at 31-29 in the eighth spot and a half game behind Philadelphia for No. 7.
Boston: As one of the hottest teams in the league, the Celtics own an impressive 21-12 record since the All-Star break. At 36-25, Boston has moved quickly up to the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference standings and has overtaken Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division lead. What’s remarkable about the Celtics recent run is the constant roster shuffling from head coach Doc Rivers. Ray Allen has battled an injured right ankle, and Chris Wilcox, Jermaine O’Neal, and Jeff Green are out for the season. The new-look Boston lineup features Kevin Garnett at the center position and Avery Bradley next to Rajon Rondo in the starting five. Following the season series finale against the Knicks on Tuesday night, the Celtics will face potential playoff squads to conclude the 2011-12 year, including: Orlando, Atlanta, Miami, and Milwaukee on April 26.
Last Time Out
New York: The Knicks held their ground in Sunday’s showdown against the Heat but just came up short in a 93-85 loss.
Boston: Brandon Bass led the Celtics to a 94-82 win over the Bobcats on Sunday in Charlotte.
The Numbers Game
Under interim head coach Mike Woodson, the Knicks are 4-0 following a defeat and their margin of victory is 14.5 points in those wins.
Match-up To Watch: Knicks Backcourt vs. Rajon Rondo
Obviously, the title hopes for the Celtics depend on the health and production level of the Big Three. However, one could make the argument that Rondo is Boston’s most important player in its search for championship glory. While Rondo’s jumper is still suspect, his passing skills are off the charts as he has averaged 15.6 assists per game over his last five outings. The point guard is also averaging 18.7 points, 13.3 assists, and nine rebounds in the three meetings against New York this season. He is masterful with the rock and will search for opportunities in transition to hit streaking teammates down the floor. The Knicks backcourt and frontline players must effectively defend the pick-and-pop between Rondo and Garnett. This is just one of the ways Rondo will work to damage the opposition while maximizing the talents of Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Allen. Iman Shumpert has the defensive skill set to lock on Rondo and lower his impact in this contest. The rookie may look to pressure Rondo on the ball as opposed to allowing him room on the perimeter to operate, which has been the tactic of many teams attempting to defend the All-Star over the course of his five-year career.
What to Look For
The Celtics are back in the contender conversation as the season comes to a close in a couple of weeks. In similar fashion to the year where it captured a title, Boston only allows 89.2 points per game and just 41.6 percent from the floor. The difference for Boston is the increase in offensive output against elite defensive teams during its winning stretch since the All-Star break. In wins over Philadelphia and Miami, the Celtics reached the century mark this past week. The Knicks must match Boston on the offensive side of the floor aside from Anthony. J.R. Smith, Shumpert, Steve Novak, and New York’s bench crew will need to find scoring space against the vaunted Celtics defense in order to snatch a win at MSG.