By John Schmeelk
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All the talk leading up to Thursday night’s game against the Celtics, and understandably so, has focused on the feud between Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett.

It’s great theater between two All-Stars, and Anthony has shown himself to be prone to immature behavior. But he isn’t alone. His teammates have shown a propensity for reacting poorly against the more physical teams they’ve played this year, whether it is the Celtics, Bulls or Grizzlies.

They get taken out of their offense, and often times the offense turns into bouts of one-on-one basketball that never ends well for the Knicks. There are far more technical fouls and complaining to officials about a lack of calls than there is ball movement or sound basketball. The Celtics provide yet another test in those types of playoff-intensity situations, despite their record. These types of games, more than any other, are a litmus test for the playoffs. All that being said, however, the biggest challenge for the Knicks tonight will be stopping Rajon Rondo.

What most people forget is that the Knicks not only lost to the Celtics — who were playing without Rondo — but also allowed the Celtics to break the 100-point barrier without their point guard. As embarrassing as that might be, the Knicks’ defense this season against quick penetrating guards has been even worse. Especially with Raymond Felton out — though his defensive numbers were far from good before the injury — the Knicks have no one capable of guarding opposing point guards that use their quickness to get into the lane. Iman Shumpert still can’t play enough minutes to be considered a primary defender on Rondo.

It appears that Mike Woodson will start Jason Kidd on Rondo, which will be an unmitigated disaster. If Shumpert is in the starting lineup, playing him on anyone but Rondo should be considered insanity. Kidd can be placed on whomever the Celtics put at shooting guard, with Anthony on Paul Pierce or Brandon Bass, depending on who starts at forward with him.

The Celtics destroyed the Knicks with their high pick-and-roll in their last meeting, forcing the Knicks into switches that led to double teams and eventually wide-open shots. The same will happenon Thursday if Kidd plays Rondo for any extended period of time. He will be in the lane all night long destroying the Knicks’ defense. There are no easy answers for defending Rondo — there’s a reason he is a great point guard — but the Knicks do have some options.

They could leave Kidd on Rondo, and simply have him go under every single screen and let Rondo take an open jump shot any time he wants. This will work only until Rondo realizes that he can push Kidd back into the lane and get to the hoops if he is patient. The Knicks can blanket Rondo with Shumpert or J.R. Smith, play him man-on-man and try to turn him into a scorer the same way teams did to Steve Nash when he ran the Suns. They can also hedge or even trap the screen, and put the onus on Garnett or Bass to make open jumpers. None of these are ideal, but that’s why the high screen-and-roll with a great point guard is so effective.

Whatever they do, the Knicks’ success will be determined by how they control Rondo. In many ways, their success this season will be determined by how they control the opponent’s quick guards off the dribble. It has been their Achilles’ heel defensively all year long, and one they must correct if they want to make a run deep into the playoffs.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

– Nothing will make me happier on Thursday than to see the Knicks just play basketball. I don’t want to see them get sucked into personal one-on-one battles with the opponent. I don’t want to see extra-curricular activities. I don’t want them to get obsessed with the referees. Just play basketball!

– I’ve been mulling over potential starting lineups in my head for when Felton comes back, and I’ve struggled a bit in coming up with any real answers. My early opinion is that leaving Kidd and Felton together in the starting lineup is a no-brainer, with Melo and Tyson Chandler up front. I think Shumpert is the answer at the three, but I am toying with a couple different things. There will be more on this next week.

– I can’t wait to see Amar’e Stoudemire test out his improving offense against Garnett and an improving Celtics defense.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.

What is your prediction for tonight’s game? Let’s get some scores in the comments section below…

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