With a roster already devastated by injuries, the Boston Celtics will have to grit their teeth and bear another absence for at least a while. But with Kevin Garnett the latest to go down and the team already struggling with its defense and rebounding, it could have a major effect as they posture for playoff seeding.
They'll be matched up Tuesday night at home against the New York Knicks, who have recently found a frontcourt spark from a player who spent most of the season as a free agent.
Tuesday's game could be a preview of a potential first-round series in the Eastern Conference playoffs. New York (42-26) currently occupies the third spot while Boston (36-33) is 6 1/2 games behind, but has lost four games in a row.
The Celtics' season has been marred by injuries to Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger, as well as former teammate Leandro Barbosa, and now Garnett is expected to be out at least a week with inflammation in his left ankle. It could be as long as three weeks, according to general manager Danny Ainge, but coach Doc Rivers is confident it won't affect Garnett in the playoffs.
Even if Garnett only misses a week, it could be significant, with Tuesday's contest marking the first of five in a seven-day span.
"We're going to err on the right side," Rivers said. "If they give me an option of 'You can play him every third game or give him two weeks rest,' I can tell you right now, I'm going to say 'two weeks rest' ... because at the end of the day, I want him right. I don't want him half right."
Garnett's absence is particularly troubling as the Celtics have allowed 104 or more points three times during their four-game slide. Already one of the league's worst rebounding teams with an average margin of minus-4.1 this season, Boston is also being outrebounded by an average of 10 during its skid. Garnett is the team's leading rebounder, averaging 7.8 and his average of 0.9 blocks per game is tied with Jeff Green for first.
The Knicks, meanwhile, have won four in a row with Kenyon Martin proving to be a pleasant surprise. Martin hadn't played this season until being signed on Feb. 21, but since he has played in 11 contests while starting the last six. He's averaging 12.2 points on 67.3 percent shooting with 7.2 rebounds in those starts.
Martin had 18 points and seven rebounds in New York's 110-84 home win over Toronto on Saturday.
"He's doing a little bit of everything for us," coach Mike Woodson said. "Major plus for our ballclub, I tell you that."
New York will try to slow down Paul Pierce, who has torched the Knicks in recent years, averaging 27.8 points on 52.9 percent shooting -- including 49.3 percent from 3-point range -- over his last 13 games against them.
Carmelo Anthony is averaging 28.1 points in his last eight games against Boston, though his teams went 3-5.
The Celtics had won 11 in a row at home in the series before an 89-86 loss on Jan. 24 as Anthony scored a game-high 28 points. Pierce had 23 in a 102-96 win at New York on Jan. 7.
The Celtics will also miss Kevin Garnett's offense, specifically on pick-and-rolls. Garnett has scored nearly half of the Celtics' points from pick-and-roll screeners this season, and has the eighth-most points in the NBA this season.
The Knicks are one of five teams the Celtics have outscored inside the paint this season. The Celtics have averaged 45 points in the paint in two games against the Knicks this season, their third-highest average against a single opponent. Tyson Chandler played at least 40 minutes in each game.
Highest Point Differential in the Paint - Celtics by Opponent This Season
*90 to 60
Both the Celtics and Knicks could be without their defensive anchors Tuesday night. However, the Celtics have been more than 7.0 points per 100 possessions worse on defense without Kevin Garnett while the Knicks have been slightly better without Tyson Chandler.