The Knicks may get the services of center Tyson Chandler again, as the All Star’s status has been upgraded to questionable just in time for Tuesday night’s tilt against the Celtics (36-33). But perhaps the bigger piece to whether the team has success in Boston will come down to the play of Kenyon Martin.
If Chandler’s ailing neck improves and he plays, he’ll indeed be a welcomed addition for the Knicks, because New York’s frontline is woefully thin, thanks to season-long injuries claiming Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas at one point or another. But the Knicks may even be better-served if they continue to give Martin major minutes. The 6-foot-9 power forward has filled in admirably at center in Chandler’s absence, so head coach Mike Woodson would be wise to continue playing Martin extended minutes — even with Chandler’s return.
As great a defender Chandler is, Martin has had just as much defensive impact during his tenure, as New York is giving up 99.5 points per 100 possessions, which would rank fifth in the NBA. Conversely, when he's off the floor, they're giving up 103.3 points, which would put them 17th.
Such valuable production is the main reason why Martin thinks he deserves to continue his recent playing time bump. But besides that, Martin said his once-troublesome knees are feeling as good as they have in years, which is why he has such great bounce to his step.
“My knees have not been an issue for a few years, [because] not having played basketball for a while, I don’t have the wear and tear,” said Martin, who is working for the relatively cheap price of two 10-day contracts.
The mercurial Martin, whose hustle, energy and post-dunk theatrics have made him a Garden favorite, also admitted he’s looking forward to Tuesday’s game because the Celtics were one of the teams who bypassed his services while he sat out most of the first five months of the season as a street free agent.
“I was getting my legs ready [during his time away from the game], so I want people to know I can still play. I just don’t want this to be it,” said Martin, who added he seeks revenge on all the teams that never called. “My thoughts are probably ones that I can’t say on camera. … But I am in a happy place now.”
The rest of the league’s loss is the Knicks’ gain, especially recently, as Martin — and Carmelo Anthony — have spearheaded a four-game winning streak. While Martin has manned the pivot, Woodson kept Anthony at the power forward position, the same spot the All Star has played all season. But should Chandler play against the Celtics, Woodson will have a decision to make. He’ll have to decide whether to keep Martin in the starting lineup as the power forward, which would slide the 6-foot-7 Anthony back to his customary small forward, or bring Martin off the bench.
Whatever he decides, Woodson said it’ll be a “nice luxury” because of how seamless Martin can adapt to any situation — and also how similar Martin and Chandler’s games are.
“Tyson does the same thing [as Kenyon],” Woodson said. “They’re pretty similar as pick-and-roll guys. Both are defensive-minded guys, both can block shots and both finish around the rim. … Bringing Kenyon off [the bench], it becomes a double threat and we don’t lose a lot.”
Woodson might’ve showed his hand in regards to playoff strategy when he admitted that he may start a big lineup (Anthony, Martin and Chandler together) to contend with a possible first-round matchup against the Bulls, who own one of the biggest frontlines in the league. And should the Knicks be so fortunate to advance to the second round, the Pacers’ bruising and deep frontcourt will likely be waiting.
But whatever the formula going forward, Woodson’s assertion about the Knicks’ recent frontline tear is correct in that as long as Martin continues ascending and his knees hold up, the veteran power forward is a nice — and cheap — problem to have.
» Chandler tested himself a bit during Monday’s practice, but admitted afterwards that he still felt some spasms when stretching to defend. Woodson may have upgraded Chandler to questionable, but it sounds as if the center is still very questionable for the Celtics on Tuesday.
» The Celtics will also likely be down a starting center, as Kevin Garnett (foot) will miss the game and probably even the Easter Sunday tilt next week. Celtics head coach Doc Rivers admitted the team’s doctors will be taking a second look at the MRI on Garnett's foot to decide his status going forward.
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