Knicks vs. Celtics preview: Huge playoff implications for both teams Tuesday night


Two of the most inconsistent teams in the NBA this season square off on Tuesday in a game that could affect both the top and the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

After dropping four consecutive games in the wake of the injuries to Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks are now on a four-game winning streak coming into Tuesday night's game with the Celtics. Boston, meanwhile, has lost six of their last eight, as the honeymoon following Rajon Rondo's injury appears to be over.

The game could have a huge impact on the Eastern Conference playoff race. New York is half a game behind Indiana for the No. 2 seed and two games ahead of Brooklyn. Boston is two games behind Atlanta for the No. 6 seed and two games ahead of Milwaukee. A win for the Knicks could help set-up a first-round playoff series between these two teams.

With Kevin Garnett out with a sprained ankle and Tyson Chandler day-to-day with a bulging disc, defense may be at a premium on Tuesday, as neither team has the personnel to survive defensively without their shot-blocking 7'0 protecting the rim. As a result, much of the attention on Tuesday will turn to the match-up at the small forward position, where Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce will square off.

After sitting out three straight games to deal with a sprained right knee, Carmelo has come back rejuvenated in the last week. He's averaged 29 points a game in the last three Knicks wins, looking more like the player being talked about in the MVP race at the beginning of the season. Pierce, meanwhile, has been a rock of consistency amid an unprecedented amount of change and roster turnover in Boston this season, averaging 19 points, 5 assists and 6 rebounds on 44 percent shooting.

Kenyon Martin's Emergence

Perhaps the most unexpected part of New York's recent winning streak has been the play of Kenyon Martin, who hadn't played in the NBA all season before the Knicks signed him to a 10-day contract in February. The 35-year old Martin has been taking advantage of the absence of Chandler and Stoudemire upfront to prove that he's still a capable NBA player. In their last two games, both wins over Toronto, Martin has averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds.

Not playing for most of the season may have kept the 12-year NBA veteran for the stretch run. He's also been re-united with Jason Kidd, with the two combining for alley-oops in New York like they did a decade ago in New Jersey, when they were the two best players on a Nets team that made two consecutive NBA Finals. Martin could have another big game on Tuesday against a depleted Boston front-line that starts two hybrid forwards -- Brandon Bass and Jeff Green -- upfront.

The game will be broadcast nationally by TNT at 7 p.m. ET.

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