In a clash between the top two of the Atlantic division, the Boston Celtics(19-4) travel to Madison Square Garden hoping to hold onto top spot against the rejuvenated New York Knicks( 16-9).
This should be a very intriguing match-up as the best defensive team in the league, the Celtics, must match-up to the best offensive team in the league, the Knicks. The Celtics are averaging just 91.0 points per game this season while the Knicks lead the league with 108.5 points per game.
The Knicks offensive explosion this season is largely due to the off-season acquisition of Amare Stoudemire, who has quickly lived up to his superstar reputation ranking third in the league in points per game with 26.2 for the season. The power forward has been exceptional as of late averaging 33.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game during the Knicks eight game winning streak. The Celtics will need to contain Stoudemire if they are to end the Knicks winning streak and continue their own.
The Celtics have won their last ten games with the most recent being the complete domination of the Charlotte Bobcats in Charlotte. The Celtics allowed a measly 62 points to the Bobcats in that game, the lowest of any team in the league this season.
For all of Stoudemire’s offensive production, he can be exploited defensively. The Celtics will look to take advantage of their size advantage in the paint with Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett as the Knicks lack a true center. Expect Rajon Rondo, the Celtics mercurial point guard, to get the ball to Shaq early and make the Knicks double team the big man to free up space for sharp shooters Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
Rondo is leading the league in assists with an unbelievable 13.7 per game. He is one of only two players currently averaging over 10 assists per game which hasn’t stopped him from contributing 11.2 points per game also.
Rondo’s match-up with Raymond Felton will be crucial to the outcome of this game. Felton is coming off a career best 17 assists against the Denver Nuggets as well as adding 19 points, however he faces a stern test in Rondo who was named to the All-Defensive first NBA team last season.
The contrast in styles of the point guards; Felton, a blazing talent with the ball but lacking on the defensive end, compared to Rondo, who can dominate his opponent both offensively and defensively, is reflective of the contrast between the two teams. The difference in this game should be the ability of the Celtics to produce at both ends of the court. The Knicks have too many frailties on defense to sufficiently slow down the Celtics who have six players averaging over 10 points per game.
-Knicks Inactives: Kelenna Azubuike
-Celtics Inactives: Jermaine O’Neal, Kendrick Perkins, Delonte West.