Game Preview: Celtics at Knicks

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – About a week ago, all signs pointed to tonight’s 8 p.m. meeting between the Boston Celtics (36-25) and New York Knicks (31-29) having a substantial impact on the Atlantic Division standings. Now it looks like this primetime game in Madison Square Garden will only impact the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Boston holds onto a 4.5-game lead in the Atlantic with just five games remaining on its schedule. Clinching the division title seems to be a mere formality for Boston at this point, but that doesn’t mean the Celtics and Knicks aren’t continuing their fight for playoff position.

The Celtics are on track to take on the Atlanta Hawks or Orlando Magic in the first round of the postseason. They must finish with at least an even record with the better of those two teams in order to secure home court advantage in that first-round series.

New York isn’t fighting for home court advantage, but it is competing with Philadelphia for the right to take on either Chicago or Miami in the first round. The Knicks are currently slotted into the seventh seed in the East, which would pit them against the Heat in the first round. However, if they slip behind the 76ers in the standings, they would take on the Bulls if Chicago wins the top seed.

With so much at stake in regard to playoff positioning, tonight’s contest is almost certain to be a great one. These two teams have gone at each other with their A-game in all three of their meetings thus far in the season. Tonight should be no different.

The Celtics have won two of the three meetings thus far, but all three contests could have gone either way. The average margin of victory in the season series is just 4.7 PPG, and the last meeting went to an overtime session.

The two teams that meet tonight, however, will be far different than the ones that went down to the wire earlier in the season. The Knicks are without two of their stars, Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin, and Boston may not have Ray Allen on the floor.

All three of those players have missed substantial time over the past month, but neither team has missed a beat. Boston has won six of its past seven games, with three of those victories coming without the services of Allen. The Knicks have also been hot while Stoudemire and Lin have been out, as they have won eight of their last 12 games overall.

How are the teams managing to overcome such substantial injuries? Their superstars are playing up to their lofty standards.

Kevin Garnett has been an unstoppable force for Boston and is fresh off of being named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. He averaged 20.0 PPG and 10.8 RPG in four games last week. Instead of slowing down as this difficult season progresses, he’s only getting better as we approach the postseason.

For the Knicks, their man has been Carmelo Anthony, who is in the midst of one of the hottest stretches of his accomplished career. He is averaging 31.7 PPG and 7.3 RPG in the month of April. That scoring average this month is nearly seven points higher than any other month of his season.

With Garnett and Anthony carrying their respective teams, both Boston and New York are gearing up for big-time playoff pushes. Tonight’s contest might not have much of an impact on the division, but it sure will influence where these teams wind up playing in the first round of the postseason.

’Melo at the 4

Much like Garnett’s dominance since his switch to the center position, Anthony has been reborn since he began playing at power forward. Knicks coach Mike Woodson decided to slide Anthony to power forward once Stoudemire was forced out of the lineup due to a bulging disk in his back. Anthony has been on fire ever since.

With Anthony playing power forward, Boston is going to have some decisions to make in regard to its defense. Paul Pierce is typically the man who defends Anthony, but Brandon Bass will now be the one matched up with New York’s superstar. Bass isn’t used to defending off-the-dribble scorers like Anthony, so Doc Rivers may be forced to go with a small lineup. If Rivers does make that decision, Pierce will likely play power forward while Mickael Pietrus or Sasha Pavlovic handle the small forward duties.

Pierce, KG are Rested

The Celtics decided that a back-to-back-to-back was too much stress to put on Garnett and Pierce’s bodies, so the duo did not travel with the team to Charlotte for Sunday’s game. It was a win-win situation for Boston, as the team grabbed a win while two of its stars grabbed some extra rest.

Garnett and Pierce haven’t played since Saturday and will head into this game with fresh legs. That’s not a good sign for New York, especially when considering the fact that Garnett (16.0 PPG, 8.7 RPG) and Pierce (32.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG) have already been fantastic against the Knicks this season.

Rondo Loves New York

We all know by now that Rajon Rondo loves nationally televised games. He also apparently has a thing for games against the New York Knicks .

Rondo has 10 triple-doubles over the past two seasons and three of those came in games against New York. The most recent one, logged on March 4, was of epic proportions – 18 points, 17 rebounds, 20 assists.

The Knicks have Baron Davis playing point guard right now and he is not exactly a defensive stalwart. The combination of Rondo’s passion for playing New York and Davis’ questionable defense could lead to yet another incredible stat line for Boston’s point guard.