Blakely's Celtics-Knicks preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Knicks preview

NEW YORK Ray Allen will return to the Boston Celtics lineup, which will give them another guy who can score from the perimeter. But lately, it has been the defense of Boston's guards that turned heads - and in many instances, turned opponents away with one empty possession after another.

Having won seven of their last 10 games (only Indiana has been better during that span in the East, winning nine of their last 10 games), the Celtics have done it in large part because of the defensive play of their guards. Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and company have been able to limit dribble penetration which has forced a number of teams to be more perimeter-oriented than they probably would want to be.

This has led to guards taking tougher, more contested shots which in turn, has meant fewer points allowed by the C's. In the last 10 games, Boston has allowed opposing guards to score 34.2 points per game which ranks just behind New Orleans (32.5) and Philadelphia (34.1).

Of course, limiting guards from scoring likely means a spike in points for frontcourt players, right? For New Orleans and Philadelphia, it does. They rank in the bottom 10 for points allowed to frontcourt players in their last 10 games played. Meanwhile, the Celtics are giving up 50.2 points to frontcourt players during he same time period, second only to tonight's opponent, the New York Knicks, who have allowed opposing frontcourts to score 48.9 points per game.

Boston's ability to keeping both guards and big men from generating lots of points, will be a primary factor in the outcome of tonight's game. But there are other keys to the game as well. We'll examine some of them now as Boston tries to move one step closer to locking up the Atlantic Division against a surging New York Knicks team that has won four of their last six games.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR The reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, Kevin Garnett, returns to the floor after C's coach Doc Rivers gave him last game off. Garnett was in a great groove scoring the ball, as well as defending and of course, rebounding. It's only one night and it shouldn't throw him totally out of whack, but Garnett is a creature of habit that does not like his routine to be disrupted. He understands the value that the Celtics place him in, knowing he has to play well and be healthy in the playoffs, for them to have any shot of making another deep playoff run. But you have wonder if missing the one game will impact his play, or possibly result in him getting off to a slow start.

MATCHUP TO WATCHBrandon Bass vs. Carmelo Anthony: With the Knicks going with a three-guard lineup, Anthony slides over to the power forward position which means he'll be matched with Bass. Look for the Celtics to switch this often on defense. But if Anthony is guarding Bass, this might be the game in which Bass displays a low-post game. Because Anthony is strong, arguably the strongest small forward this side of LeBron James. But Bass is stronger and heavier - two factors he needs to utilize often tonight.

PLAYER TO WATCHRajon Rondo will likely be guarded at times by Iman Shumpert, an athletic, defensive-minded, on-the-ball-defender cut from the same cloth as Avery Bradley. He's quick enough to get up on Rondo and strong enough to throw Rondo off stride. But to Rondo's credit, he has figured out a way to beat every kind of defense, every kind of defender, thrown his way whose mission is to limit his effectiveness which is evident by him racking up double-digit assists in 22 straight games.

STAT TO TRACKPoints will be hard to come by for both teams around the basket, a point that's drilled home when you look at the numbers in recent games. In the last 10 games, the Knicks are tops in the NBA in fewest points allowed in the paint, at 26.5. Right behind them? You guessed it. The Boston Celtics, who are giving up 27.4 points in the paint during the same period of time. It speaks to how they're defending, obviously. But it also says a lot about the opponents they have faced who rely a lot more on their perimeter shooting than pounding the ball inside or scoring off dribble penetration.

Report: Celtics express deep trade interest in P.J. Tucker

Report: Celtics express deep trade interest in P.J. Tucker

The Boston Celtics are lining up a consolation prize in the event they are unable to land Bulls guard Jimmy Butler

The Celtics are deeply interested in Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker, according to Sporting News' Sean Deveney. In 57 games this season, the 31-year-old has averaged seven points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.3 assists. The 6-foot-6, 245-pounder has played in Pheonix for five seasons. In the year before that, he spent his rookie season with the Toronto Raptors.

Tucker would join a group of shooting forwards in Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown and Gerald Green.

The addition of Tucker isn't nearly as significant as Butler, but that may be just why the Celtics are interested. Deveney explained Tucker's "amicable" attitude and experience could be a nice fit in the Celtics' already cohesive locker room. Butler is a big splash acquisition that may make a big splash in the locker room, and he would require adjustments from Isaiah Thomas.

Moreland not worried about filling Ortiz's shoes because 'there's no replacing him'

Moreland not worried about filling Ortiz's shoes because 'there's no replacing him'

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mitch Moreland knows he's likely the only new player in Boston's lineup since David Ortiz retired at the end of last season.

He's just not listening to those who say he needs to replace Big Papi's lofty production.

"I try not to hear it because there's no replacing that guy," said the 31-year-old first baseman, who signed a one-year, $5.5-million deal with the Red Sox during the offseason.

"I think it's going to be more of a team effort," he said. "Obviously we picked up two big arms as well, and it's a very balanced club."

After playing his first six-plus seasons in the majors with the Texas Rangers, Moreland is with a new organization for the first time in his career. So far, he said, the move has been smooth.

"They welcomed me from Day One," he said. "Handshakes and hugs right off the bat. It's going to be a lot of fun. You can see why they had so much success last year."

Coming off a subpar 2016 with a .233 batting average, 22 homers and 60 RBI, Moreland tested free agency. He wanted to go to a team that had a good chance at competing for a championship -- like he felt with the Rangers.

"Something that was at the top of my list as a player," he said. "If I was going to be on a team, I wanted a team that had a chance to win. It makes it that much more fun to come to the park every day when something's on the line and you're fighting for a chance to play in the playoffs, fighting to win the division and fighting to win a World Series."

A first-time Gold Glove winner last season, Moreland knows the defending A.L. East champion Red Sox wanted his defensive skills at first to allow Hanley Ramirez to shift to Ortiz's vacated DH spot.

"It gives you a little more confidence," Moreland said. "I take pride in that. That's going to be my main goal, to go out and show what they saw."

A left-handed batter like Ortiz, Moreland knows some people will expect him to fill the void offensively because of which side of the plate he bats from.

"I think it'll be a group effort picking up what will be missing," he said. "There's no replacing that guy."

Manager John Farrell also said the club needs to move on from Ortiz so Moreland and everyone else can relax and focus on their own game.

"David's effect on the lineup was felt by a number of people. We know opponents would game plan for David," Farrell said. "I think it's important for our guys - as we put David out of our mind, in a good way - that it's still a focus on what their strengths are in the strike zone."

The transition may be easy for Moreland so far, but one thing has certainly changed: spending spring training in Florida instead of Arizona.

"Fishing's a lot different than Arizona, so that's nice," he said.

NOTES: "We're getting a firsthand look to why he's been so successful and an elite pitcher," Farrell said after left-hander Chris Sale pitched batting practice. The Red Sox acquired Sale from the Chicago White Sox in an offseason trade for four prospects. They also acquired right-handed, hard-throwing setup man Tyler Thornburg from Milwaukee . . . Farrell said righty Steven Wright, who missed the final two months of the season with a shoulder injury, "was unrestricted in his throwing." . . . The Red Sox will have a shorter workout Tuesday with the players association set to talk to the team and the organization's annual charity golf tournament in the afternoon.