With less than a month left in the NBA season to secure the best possible playoff position, New York and Boston prepare to tussle on Tuesday. The Eastern Conference battle features one streaking team and one slumping team.
The Knicks hope to continue their success and steal the second seed from the Indiana Pacers, while Boston is looking to end a four-game losing streak. If the Celtics’ struggles continue, they may find themselves playing the Miami Heat in the first round.
The two biggest factors in this game are rebounding and the play of Jeff Green.
The Celtics rank second-to-last in the NBA with an abysmal rebounding differential of -4.1. Only the Bobcats rank lower than Boston.
Ordinarily, that would cause a major matchup problem with 7’1” Tyson Chandler, who is averaging 11.0 rebounds per game this season. However, the New York Daily News reported that Chandler is unlikely to return in this game.
With both teams’ leading rebounders out, it is imperative for everyone on the court to hit the glass. Expect Paul Pierce to pick up some slack and exceed his average of 6.3 rebounds per game at the small forward position. Second-chance points could put the Celtics over the edge.
For the Knicks, older rookie Chris Copeland will have to play a solid game on the boards. He averages 1.8 rebounds per game in limited action, but he pulled down at least five rebounds in four of his last eight games. He will need to produce at least six boards off the bench against an undersized Celtics squad.
While the battle for rebounds will be intriguing, Jeff Green is the real X-factor in this game. Though he hasn’t scored more than 13 points in the last three games, he exploded against the Heat last Monday for 43 points.
Green shot 66.7 percent from the field in that game and went to the line 13 times. In order to beat the Knicks tomorrow night, Green needs to hit jumpers and draw fouls on drives.
Green will likely guard Carmelo Anthony on the other end of the floor. Green hounded LeBron James in their most recent matchup with the Heat, but LeBron still scored 37 points and put in the game-winner.
Anthony likes the Knicks’ offense to run through him. If Green can shut him down, it’s possible their offense will stagnate.
Keep an eye on both factors tomorrow night. They will decide who comes out with a much-needed victory.
*All statistics provided by ESPN.com.