There was no way possible that the New York Knicks could've lost to the Washington Wizards on Monday night. The Wizards came to the Garden with a road record of 0-20 this season. The Knicks beat them, 115-106, snapping a six-game losing streak.
The win isn't really what you'd call impressive, obviously, but it was well-needed, especially considering their upcoming schedule. After taking care of business for a rare time over the last couple of weeks, the Knicks will now face the Miami Heat at home and then travel to Atlanta.
The Knicks have played LeBron James and the Heat twice so far this season, both losses and both in different endings.
On December 17 at the Garden, the Knicks played the Heat tough with a huge first-half comeback to enter halftime tied. That was as far as they'd get, getting outscored 56-34 in the second half, a game that featured 32 points from James and 26 apiece from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Giving up 84 points to three players, no matter who they are, is unacceptable and the sole reason why the Knicks lost at the end. As a result of the offensive explosion by the "Big Three," the rest of the team only had 29 points.
The Knicks, though, saw their offense get shut down by a great Heat defense and proved that they're not ready to play with the elite.
Which of the next two games will the Knicks win?
However, the Knicks did give the Heat a run for their money in their arena in Miami 11 days later. After three quarters, the Knicks trailed 80-65 and it seemed as if it would be impossible to make a comeback. The Knicks cut the lead down to three points, but Landry Fields spoiled the comeback attempt by missing three free throws and the Heat wouldn't look back.
Back in December when these games were played, the Knicks were on a roll and were trying to show they could compete with teams like the Heat. They had almost beaten the Celtics on a buzzer-beater and were winning some games against quality opponents such as the Thunder and Bulls. Later on, at the beginning of this month, the Knicks stunned the Spurs and forced them to give up with plenty of time remaining in the game.
Ever since their impressive win in Portland two weeks ago, beating the Blazers with a solid defensive effort and putting the game away with an offensive outburst, the Knicks have lost a step. Not only can they not compete with the elite, but they haven't even been able to beat the weak.
It all started with an All-Star Game type of effort in Utah, losing despite putting up 125 points. That was at least understandable on the road against a tough team. But, then came losses to the likes of the Kings and Suns on their home floor, with their top guns showing a sign of fatigue. That was followed by a tough three-game road trip in which they got swept to some quality opponents.
It all totalled to a six-game losing streak, and that's what made Monday night the first "must-win" game of the season. In fact, a loss to the Wizards would've been disastrous. A seven-game losing streak that could've potentially extended to nine with these two tough games upcoming.
After the Heat on Thursday, the Knicks go on the road for a game at the Hawks. What the Hawks did to the Knicks earlier in the season is impressive. They beat them at the Garden—the only Knicks' loss in a 13-1 stretch.
That's the stretch the Knicks had that made them who they are now. A team that, unlike the past decade, can at least contend for a playoff spot.
The Hawks, though, have had their issues. The home game against the Knicks on Friday night will be their first since getting embarrassed to the Hornets last Friday, only putting up 59 points in the entire game. New Orleans beat Atlanta, 100-59, a rare defeat of that kind for a team that's well above the .500 mark (29-16).
After being such road warriors, the Knicks have lost four straight away from home and will most likely need to win in Atlanta after probably losing to the Heat.
With 38 games left to play and a five-and-a-half game lead for a playoff spot, all of these games become important. There are some dark-horse teams creeping up on the Knicks at the bottom of the Eastern Conference such as the 76ers and Bobcats.
With the trading deadline less than one month away and Carmelo Anthony's future in doubt in Denver, the Knicks may be getting some help soon. But, even without any other help, the Knicks and this current team has done well enough to put itself in position to make their first playoff appearance in seven years.
They don't have to beat teams like the Heat, but getting wins that they should and avoiding long losing streaks will be key for the remainder of this season. We'll see if it starts with a stunner on Thursday.