at Madison Square Garden, New York City, 7:30 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)
PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Spotlight on Rondo ... Again: The play of Rajon Rondo has been examined down to the tiniest detail these last few weeks, given his string of uncharacteristic performances. Granted, he's been matched up against legitimate competition in each of his last 10 games, and that beat will roll on tonight, when he goes toe-to-toe with the larger, and stronger, Chauncey Billups. While Rondo might possess a quickness advantage on offense, the Knicks might very well counter by having Billups post Rondo up on the block on the other end. The Knicks will probably also try and utilize the versatile Jared Jeffries, whose length and quickness at 6-foot-11 could prove bothersome to Rondo on the defensive end. Similar to how the Lakers use Kobe Bryant defensively on Rondo, Jeffries might sag off and encourage Rondo to shoot jump shots as he looks to play the role of free safety and provide help defense for his teammates.
Pierce's Theatrics: The last time these two teams met back in December, Paul Pierce buried a step-back jumper over Amare Stoudemire with 0.4 seconds left, capping off a thrilling 118-116 victory. Pierce routinely notes that he enjoys playing on the NBA's larger stages (and few are larger than Madison Square Garden), particularly when games go down to the wire. If things stay close tonight, don't be shocked if Pierce elects to take the big shots once again. Who knows, we might even see a late-game, back-and-forth duel between Pierce and New York's Carmelo Anthony if things play out accordingly.
Shooting in Unison: The Knicks have lost five of their last six games overall, and throughout that string of losses, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire never shot at least 50 percent from the field in the same game. In New York's lone win in the last six games -- a 120-99 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies -- Anthony shot 10 of 19 from the floor, finishing with 28 points, while Stoudemire connected on 6-of-12 field goal attempts, capping off a 16-point, nine-rebound effort.
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
New York (35-34) has 13 games left, and it appears to be on its way to reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The team is seventh in the conference, one-half game behind sixth-place Philadelphia and seven ahead of Milwaukee in ninth.
The Knicks failed to create more separation from the Bucks on Sunday, losing 100-95 at Milwaukee while hitting just 38.6 percent of their shots. They've dropped five of seven and are 7-8 since acquiring Carmelo Anthony from Denver last month.
"They're frustrated, and that's good," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We're trying to get this done. We'll get it done. It's just a matter of staying calm and knowing our problems and working through them."
One of the problems has been poor defensive play, and New York has show some improvement over the last three games. The Knicks have allowed an average of 99.3 points after giving up 117.3 over the previous three.
While the defensive issues appear to be waning, Anthony could provide a spark offensively after scoring 23 points Sunday. He was held to six points while making just 2 of 12 shots in a 99-95 loss at Detroit two nights prior. The forward had 32 points for the Nuggets in a 113-99 loss at Boston on March 24 of last year.
The Knicks are in for a series of rough tests during this homestand, also hosting Orlando and Milwaukee. They've dropped 14 of 16 meetings with the Celtics, and nine of 11 at MSG.
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