It's safe to say that 2012 has been a bumpy year for the Boston Celtics, but they need to get it together in 2013 and win some important games.
Thanks to the National Basketball Association's 82-game schedule, it's more about how you finish than how you start. So while the Celtics are struggling to establish themselves as a top threat now, they still have plenty of time to turn their season around.
However, in order to do so, they must win five key games. The must-win games vary from contests against Eastern Conference heavyweights to matches with long-time rivals.
The Celtics need to build all the momentum they can leading up to the postseason. In 2011-12, Boston turned around a sluggish start to end up with the best record in the league following All-Star break. This year's Celtics can run the same path, as long as they are consistent.
The Boston Celtics have had their share of losses in 2012, but winning key games in 2013 could turn their season around.
This will be the first meeting between the Celtics and Heat since opening night. The intensity between these two rivals was propelled to a new level after Ray Allen joined the Heat, but the Celtics failed to get the win.
Since that last meeting, the Heat have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, while the Celtics are just trying to stay above .500. Nonetheless, Celtics-Heat matches are always ultra-competitive and both teams bring their A-games.
After the bad blood at the last meeting, the Celtics have unfinished business until they beat the Heat. From Kevin Garnett giving Allen the cold shoulder to Dwyane Wade's "punk play" accusations following Rajon Rondo's late-game flagrant foul, you could use a knife to cut the tension between the two teams.
The Celtics must win this upcoming game against the Heat. If Boston plans on making any noise this season, they have to beat the defending champs. With Miami, it's personal.
The Lakers are far from what fans expected them to be in 2012-13. They're struggling with a coaching change and no point guard. The ultimate Big Three of Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash has crashed and burned so far.
Enter the Celtics. One of the biggest rivalries in NBA history is between the Celtics and Lakers. Boston must take advantage of the struggling Lakers and pull out this win. While it's true that the Celtics aren't realizing their full potential either, they are still playing better than the Lakers this year.
By the time these two teams meet, Avery Bradley should be integrated back into Boston's starting lineup. It will be interesting to see if he guards Bryant and if he can lock him down.
Despite not having a dominant big man to compete with Howard, the Celtics are still the better team and need to win this game for rivalry's sake.
On Tuesday night, the Celtics lost to the Bulls with a final score of 100-89. Joakim Noah recorded a triple-double in the win, while Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer scored 21 points apiece. In other words, the Bulls ran circles around the Celtics.
If the Celtics can come back and get a solid win over the Bulls, it will keep Boston in playoff talks. Derrick Rose is reportedly "still a ways away" from returning to practice after undergoing surgery on his ACL. However, if he's back by Feb. 13, we can expect an entertaining matchup between Rose and Rajon Rondo. Rondo's game has improved greatly since the last time he faced Rose.
It's important for the Celtics to establish themselves as a dominant presence in the Eastern Conference in 2013. In order to do so, they have to start winning games against the top teams in the East, including the Bulls.
Without their superstar Andrew Bynum, the Philadelphia 76ers have been pretty inconsistent in 2012-13. However, the Celtics are still 2-4 against their Atlantic Division opponents this season.
The Celtics lost in an overtime nail-biter the last time they set foot in the Wells Fargo Center. Then, the next day, they turned around and beat the Sixers in TD Garden. The Celtics need to win this game on the road to establish their presence in the Atlantic Division.
Breakout superstar Jrue Holiday, along with Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner, won't make it easy for Boston. The older Celtics sometimes have trouble keeping up with the younger, more fast-paced Sixers. If they can pull off this win, it will show other teams that age is truly nothing but a number.
Right now, the Knicks have the best record in the Eastern Conference. They are sitting pretty at the top of the Atlantic Division. By the end of the season, the Celtics must be able to beat the Knicks at home.
It's important that the Celtics enter the playoffs with as much momentum as possible. Last season, the Celtics had the best record after the All-Star break. If the team is able to get it together and play with consistency in 2013, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Celtics have a similar run this season.
Assuming that the Knicks continue to win games after Amar'e Stoudemire returns, New York will be the team to beat in the East. If the Celtics can pull of a road win against the Knicks, they will make a huge statement in the league and give them the right momentum leading into the postseason.