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NBA Playoffs: Keys for a Knicks’ first-round victory

Series hinges on their biggest weakness — defense. D’Antoni plans to play off Rondo and crash the boards.

1 Amare must match KG’s intensity

Future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett is a manic competitor and usually ups his legendary woofing and elbow-trading in the postseason. How Amare Stoudemire reacts to Garnett’s antics will set the tone for the series. Stoudemire is known more as a finesse player but has posted respectable postseason numbers of 24 points and nine rebounds per game with the Suns.

2 Turn Rondo into a shoot-first point guard

It’s not in Rajon Rondo’s DNA to be selfish and eschew his responsibilities as the facilitator. The All-Star averaged a paltry 10.6 points per game, the lowest since his rookie campaign. He did, however, dish out a career-high 11.2 assists.

If the Knicks purposely leave him wide open, he’ll have to take those shots. Rondo is a sub-.400 percent shooter on open jumpers.

“We’ll play off him some and make him make those open jump shots,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “And until he starts making them, then we’ll adjust.”

Should the aging Chauncey Billups or the not-as-fleet-footed Toney Douglas decide to press up on Rondo, it will be a short series for the orange and blue.

3 Steal one of the first two games

Heading back to New York down 0-2 is a daunting task, and the Celtics are the type of veteran team that goes for the kill when they smell blood in the water. If New York steals one on the road early, it could give them the necessary swagger to stay on the attack.

The Celtics swept the season series 4-0, but the intensity of the playoffs is a different animal. If Carmelo Anthony pours in points like he did for Denver in the 2009 march to the conference finals, these Knicks might just prove they’re not a stepping stone to round two.

 
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