The 46-26 Knicks extended their winning streak to eight games (the longest one currently in the NBA), they wrapped up their third win over the Celtics in a season for the first time since 2003-04, and they're now even closer to 50 wins for the first time since 1999-2000.
But one of the biggest positives on Sunday night came from off the court before the game when All-Star center Tyson Chandler said the small bulging disk in his neck felt better and he was eyeing a Tuesday return against the East-leading Miami Heat.
Based on the way Kenyon Martin has been playing -- 9.9 points on 69.4 percent shooting during the winning streak, along with averages of six rebounds and around a block and steal -- that means that a new formidable frontline in the starting five could be just two days away.
Chris Copeland called Martin and Chandler together "scary."
"They alter everything around the basket," he told ESPNNewYork.com. "Guys aren't going to want to go in the paint, and [Martin and Chandler will] make them take contested shots. I think that will be a great lineup."
After the game tonight, Martin said that he hadn't given playing alongside Chandler to start games "any thought." But considering the Knicks have a challenging schedule ahead against teams with skilled size -- the Hawks (twice), Bucks, Thunder, Bulls and Pacers -- Martin and Chandler would match up well against those teams right out of the gate and prevent early collapses. In addition, they would potentially give the Heat fits with their lack of size.
If Martin and Chandler started together, Chandler could be the main pick-and-roller and Martin could be used as a weak-side screener and rebounder. And at times, they could reverse roles seamlessly. Martin's value recently as a hard-nosed screener has been huge. In fact, in two of the first three Knicks' buckets of the game tonight came from Martin freeing up Felton to get open for outside shots.
Martin, who suffered an abdominal strain during the game but said he felt "good" afterward, explained to ESPNNewYork.com his philosophy on setting screens:
"A lot of times, guys slip a lot of screens, but I'm trying to make sure I get a piece of him, no matter what -- whether it's making him go around me or just to let him know that I'm there," he said. "So if you set a good screen, nine times out of 10, guys are going to be open and you're going to get the guy a great shot. Or if I roll, the guy on the weak side is going to be wide open. ... My job is to get guys open."
Later in the third quarter, Martin rolled to the basket off a pick on Felton's man and the point guard found him for a layup.
"There are always a lot of positives when you've got a man that can jump out the gym like that," Felton said of Martin. "It's just like playing with Tyson. He's another guy that can roll, that can really play above the rim. It just makes my job easier."
Defensively, Martin and Chandler would be very imposing with their length, athleticism, experience and hard fouls. They would also allow Carmelo Anthony to avoid some bumps and bruises from not having to bang as much down low. In addition, Martin and Chandler's presence in the paint, coupled with their ability to activate double screens in a half-court set, would allow Melo and other shooters to get open more easily.
Envisioning Chandler's return to the starting lineup, Steve Novak was very encouraged.
"We can't wait to get him back because he's only going to help with the energy he brings," he said. "Even while he's been out, he's been still an emotional leader and a vocal guy ... I think with him back, I really do think we can bring it to a whole other level."
While Iman Shumpert said that Martin and Chandler together "will be fine," he also pointed to the Knicks' roster versatility in that they can play smaller lineups if need be. That's what they've proven over their last eight games, but looking ahead with the upcoming opponents, Martin-Chandler could be the secret one-two punch.
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