Celtics-Knicks Preview

The Associated Press

After the Boston Celtics swept the New York Knicks out of last year's playoffs, each meeting this season has gone down to the wire.

It doesn't appear the Atlantic Division race will.

These rivals close their season series Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, with Boston possibly welcoming back its Big 3 while key injuries leave the Knicks relying heavily on Carmelo Anthony.

The Celtics (36-25) were four games back of first place and below .500 at the All-Star break, but they can clinch a fifth straight division title if they beat the Knicks and Philadelphia loses at home to Indiana.

A 13-4 record over the past four weeks saw Boston blow by the 76ers and hold off New York, which is 13-5 since interim coach Mike Woodson took over for Mike D'Antoni.

Another Knicks victory would split this season series and prevent the Celtics from winning it for the first time since 2003-04. The first two matchups were decided by two points and the last one went to overtime, with Boston winning 115-111 on March 4 as Rajon Rondo had 18 points, 20 assists and a career-high 17 rebounds.

Rondo had another big game Sunday with 20 points and 16 assists in a 94-82 win at Charlotte, helping make up for the absences of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

"Having a player like that on your team just kind of keeps you going," guard Avery Bradley said of Rondo, who has 22 consecutive double-digit assist games.

With the Celtics playing on a third straight day, Pierce and Garnett were left back in the New York area to rest - the team won at New Jersey the previous night. Pierce had jammed his big left toe but will play Tuesday, and Allen also could be ready after missing four games and 10 of 15 with a sore ankle.

"Anybody who needs (time off), if we think it will make them better for the playoffs, then yeah, we'll rest them," coach Doc Rivers said.

Woodson doesn't have the same luxury with his Knicks (31-29) fighting just to make the playoffs, two games ahead of ninth-place Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference.

Anthony is averaging 31.7 points in seven games this month and shooting 50.9 percent - he's at a career-low 42.5 for the season.

He scored 42 against Miami on Sunday but was held to four in the fourth quarter as the Knicks lost 93-85, ending their nine-game home winning streak.

"When a guy gets it going, you can look back and if he missed a few shots, you can say 'did we get too dependent,' but it's almost like when he gets the ball you expect him to make every one," forward Steve Novak said. "So I don't think we'll change that."

That's especially true with Amare Stoudemire (back) likely to miss a 12th straight game, and Jeremy Lin (knee) not returning before the playoffs.

A new injury concern popped up Sunday when Tyson Chandler hurt his knee in the third quarter. He appeared to be slowed in the fourth but hopes to play Tuesday.

"I really couldn't move when I got out there," Chandler said. "I didn't have much strength on it."

His potential absence would leave the lane freer for Rondo, who has averaged 13.8 assists in the last 10 meetings with New York - including last April's first-round sweep. He had 31 points and 13 assists at MSG on Christmas but was outdone by Anthony's 37 points as the Knicks won 106-104.

Pierce missed that matchup with a bruised heel but has scored at least 30 in each of the last two. The Celtics won both of those games and have taken 22 of 25 versus New York including the playoff sweep.

Starting with that series, Allen is 24 of 39 from 3-point range against the Knicks.

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