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Preview: Celtics-Knicks

02.23.10 at 10:20 am ET
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When last we saw the Celtics in Boston, they were blowing a huge third-quarter lead against the Orlando Magic and causing nearly everyone to abandon ship. That was on Super Bowl Sunday. Since then, we’ve seen Peyton Manning choke, the United States win 25 medals in the Olympics and Tiger Woods kind of apologize.

Since then we’ve also seen the Celtics manage to win the first three games of a treacherous West Coast road trip (including sweeping the Lakers and Blazers in a back-to-back, which ranks near the top of the NBA in degree of difficulty) before getting blitzed in a first-quarter barrage in a loss against the Nuggets.

In other words, a lot can change in two weeks.

In the games since the All-Star break, Ray Allen has rediscovered his shooting touch, Kevin Garnett has looked more athletic than he has since December and Rasheed Wallace looks like he cares. That last part is a cheap shot, but it accurately encapsulates how a lot of people feel about this Celtics run.

The question is: Are the Celtics capable of turning it on and off whenever they want, and is this what happened over the first half of the season when uneven performances and second-half collapses became the norm? The showed out west just how good they can be even with Paul Pierce dealing with his various injuries. Now they just have to do it consistently before everyone can believe it again.

KNICKS (19-36, 1-9 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.9

Points Allowed: 104.1

Differential: -3.2 (21st)

Offensive Efficiency: 106.6 (15th)

Defensive Efficiency: 109.7 (24th)

Pace: 94.0 (7th)

Likely Starters: Sergio Rodriguez, Tracy McGrady, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, David Lee

Injuries: McGrady (knee, questionable)

CELTICS (35-19, 6-4 last 10)

Points Per Game: 98.5

Points Allowed: 93.6

Differential: +4.9 (4th)

Offensive Efficiency: 106.8 (13th)

Defensive Efficiency: 101.5 (1st)

Pace: 91.7 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Pierce (thumb, questionable)

Key Matchup: Kendrick Perkins vs. David Lee

In his fifth season, Lee has become a 20-10 player, which is good news and bad news for the Knicks. The good news is that he has become an All-Star-worthy big man on a team that needs all the help it can get. The bad news, obviously, is that he now will command that kind of salary this summer as a free agent, and it remains to be seen if he is part of their master plan. Lee is an active rebounder and a much better mid-range jump shooter. Perkins, who does his best work on the block, will have his hands full with this matchup.

The Knicks in a Paragraph: Even those who dislike how much the Knicks gave up at the trade deadline (Ken Drews from the Disciples of Clyde offers the reality check) have to admit that Donnie Walsh did what had to be done. In order to clear enough money under the salary cap to make two maximum-level offers to free agents, Walsh also had to surrender a good chunk of the team’s future. If it works, and the Knicks are able to sign LeBron James and/or Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, then it will have been a success. If not …

The Celtics in a Paragraph: Nate Robinson is scheduled to make his long-awaited debut tonight. It will be interesting to see how he fits in, especially since the second unit has begun to hit its stride. The bench was instrumental in the win over the Kings, very good against the Lakers and Blazers and a big reason why the Celtics were able to get back in the game against the Nuggets. Doc Rivers has said that Robinson’s role will be limited early to basic pick-and-rolls and it will take some time before he is fully absorbed into the rotation.

What to Watch For: Eddie House returns to the Garden and should receive an emotional welcome. Besides the starting five, no player stood for what the Celtics were all about better than House. He played his role selflessly, talked a blue streak on the court and backed it up with a steady barrage of 3-pointers and hustle. He deserves all the cheers he gets.

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