The New York Knicks are looking more and more like championship contenders as the season goes on. Although it is early, the Knicks have proven to be mentally tough and different from previous Knicks teams.
However, it is not too early to look ahead to potentially pivotal must-win games later in the season for the Knicks. These games are only important for the Knicks' playoff seeding, as they are almost locks to make the playoffs.
Playoff seeding will be very important for the Knicks because avoiding the Miami Heat until the Eastern Conference Finals will give the Knicks the best shot at winning the NBA championship. Although the records of these five teams could dramatically change from now until when the Knicks play them, as of right now these games look like not only must-win games, but also good games for the Knicks to measure themselves against the Eastern Conference's elite teams.
All of these games will be very important for Carmelo Anthony as well. If Anthony is going to win the MVP award, he will have to perform well in most of these games. LeBron James and Kevin Durant are not going to let Carmelo walk away with the award, so he will have to prove to voters that he truly is the league's most valuable player.
Here are five must-win games on the Knicks' schedule in 2013:
The Miami Heat will be in the hunt or in the lead for the No. 1 seed in the East until the end of the season, so if the New York Knicks want to clinch home-court advantage in the playoffs, they are most likely going to need to go through the Heat.
Obviously, when Miami and New York matchup it is always a marquee matchup, but this game will be even more meaningful as playoff seeding will be at stake. Although this is not the last matchup between these two teams, it is the most important matchup for the Knicks. That is because the Knicks have to capitalize on their home court so that they do not rely on a late-season win down in Miami.
This game could also help solidify Carmelo Anthony as the MVP of the league, which adds to the importance for the entire Knicks organization.
The Boston Celtics have been the class of the Atlantic Division since they acquired the big three back in 2007. They have won the division every season since then, and the Knicks have a legitimate shot at dethroning them this season.
Although the Celtics are struggling so far this season, they tend to come on strong toward the end of the season. The Knicks will likely have to fight the Celtics off to win the division and, more importantly, to secure a top-four seed in the East.
That is why the Knicks must win this late-season clash against the Celtics. The Knicks have yet to play the Celtics this season, so all of the second-half matchups against the Celtics will be very important. However, this late-season game in Madison Square Garden is the most important of them all, as it will be their last game against each other this season.
The Atlanta Hawks have been stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference for some time now, but they still cannot be overlooked. Many NBA fans and teams are overlooking this Hawks squad, but come late season, they could ruin the Knicks' playoff seeding. The Hawks are currently just 2.5 games back of the Knicks, so the Knicks better not lose focus the rest of the season.
This matchup will be the last game of the season for the Knicks, and perhaps their most important. The way that the standings look right now, this game could determine whom the Knicks face in the first round of the playoffs.
The Knicks will prefer to play a team like the Milwaukee Bucks or the Philadelphia 76ers instead of the Boston Celtics or Brooklyn Nets, and this game may very well determine the Knicks' playoff fate.
The Indiana Pacers had a rough start to the season, but have regrouped and now look like a contender in the East. The Knicks will face the Pacers in the last month of the season, and it will likely be a must-win situation for the Knicks.
The Pacers took a step back when Roy Hibbert struggled and when Danny Granger went down with an injury. However, Hibbert has looked better recently and Paul George has stepped up in the absence of Granger. When Granger comes back, the Pacers will be a tough team to beat.
All of these reasons make for a must-win game for the Knicks in April. The Knicks are going to have to battle and win this game if they want to maintain a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference. The worst possible scenario for the Knicks would be if they fell to the fourth seed, as they would likely have to face the defending champion Miami Heat in the second round.
The Brooklyn Nets-New York Knicks rivalry is quickly turning into one of, if not the, best rivalries in the entire NBA. The combination of the teams being located in the same city and the skill level of the teams make these games very fun to watch.
The Knicks are currently leading the season series two games to one, and will definitely want to win the final game of the season. The Knicks are going to have to battle with the Nets not only on the court, but also off it in terms of gaining fans.
New Yorkers never had the option of picking their basketball team of choice, but now that they do, the Knicks realize how important it is to be better than their crosstown rival.