Celtics-Knicks preview: Still in the hunt

Celtics-Knicks preview: Still in the hunt
January 28, 2014, 10:15 am
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The Celtics have more than twice as many losses as wins this season. Their best player, Rajon Rondo, has a whopping five games under his belt.

And as crazy as it may seem, they still have visions of being a playoff team.

This year, even.

Welcome to the Eastern Conference where no stretch of futility can totally take you out of the postseason hunt.

"That's the bottom line," said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. "It's a unique year in the East. To think that we would be that close to a playoff spot is pretty ridiculous considering what our record is."

Boston (15-31) is four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot which is currently being occupied by the Charlotte Bobcats.

Regardless of how close they are to the potseason, Stevens maintains that isn't his focus for this team.

"The challenge is we have to continue to get better," Stevens said. "We have to get healthy. That's going to be number one right now."

And while the postseason would be nice in his first season on the job, doing so won't be easy when you consider how so many other teams in the East that near the bottom are starting to rise.

"When you talk about Brooklyn, Cleveland's starting to find their groove since the (Luol) Deng trade," Stevens said. "You got a bunch of teams now that are now playing probably more to what people thought right out of the gate."

Here are some other keys in tonight's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Similar to Brooklyn, the New York Knicks go with a three-guard lineup that shifts Carmelo Anthony to the power forward position. That means the starting lineup Boston used against the Nets, will likely remain the same tonight.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs Carmelo Anthony
Don't think for a minute that Melo or Knicks fans have forgotten the 41-point drubbing Boston put on them the last time they were at Madison Square Garden. Bass' ability to cool down Melo's red-hot shooting will be huge in Boston's efforts towards another road upset.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: J.R. Smith has had a rocky season, to say the least, for the New York Knicks. But it seems he's starting to get back into a bit of a flow. He has scored in double figures in each of the last eight games with a 14.9 points per game average. In the first 29 games he played, Smith averaged 11.3 points while shooting 34.8 percent.

STAT TO TRACK: Tyson Chandler's presence around the basket will make it tough for Boston to get second and third-shot opportunities. For all that the Knicks have struggled with this season, they have done a nice job when it comes to limiting teams to offensive rebounds with opponents grabbing a league-low 9.5 per game against them.