There aren't many must-win games in the NBA in January.
But an early-season division game between one of the best teams in basketball (the New York Knicks) and a team struggling to find its identity (the Boston Celtics) is as close as it gets to a must-win game. Despite being just 16-17 on the year, the Celtics are a strong defensive team, allowing just 96.7 points per game.
But on Monday night, they'll face a tough task in defending Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony.
Averaging 29.3 points per game, Anthony trails only Kobe Bryant in scoring this season. He's been terrific on offense all season, and if there's one type of player the Celtics struggle to match up with, it's a versatile scorer like Anthony.
The Knicks, 23-10, have yet to play the Celtics this season. Right now, the Knicks are slotted to be the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Celtics are on track to be the No. 8 seed.
Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley made his season debut Jan. 3 against the Memphis Grizzlies. Bradley is the Celtics' best perimeter defender and one of the best on-ball defenders in all of basketball. But at just 6'2" and 180 pounds, Bradley is far too small to guard the 6'8" Anthony.
Instead, the Celtics will likely turn to a combination of Jeff Green and Brandon Bass against Anthony.
With forward Amar'e Stoudemire being eased back into the lineup, Anthony remains the Knicks' clear go-to guy offensively. And that style of offense plays directly into Anthony's strength as an isolation scorer.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers constantly has his team playing some of the best team defense in the NBA. But against great individual scorers like Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Anthony, team defense can only do so much. It comes down to one-on-one battles, and Carmelo figures to have a field day against Boston.
The Celtics are just 6-11 on the road, whereas the Knicks are 13-3 at home. By all accounts, the Celtics appear to have their work cut out for them when the two teams square off Monday.
The Knicks have won two consecutive games. Anthony is averaging 23.8 points in those wins.
With Stoudemire returning to action, the Knicks have shifted slightly away from their Carmelo-heavy style of offense. But still, this is Carmelo's team, and it will go as far as he takes them.
It will be an interesting early-season rivalry on Monday night in New York.