GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Any passionate Knicks fan remembers how frustrating it was when the team lost three games early last season to lottery-bounders: the Warriors, Raptors and Bobcats.
Some of them even made it known on Twitter regularly that the Knicks were losing to average teams way too often, and letting an average player, like the Bucks' Mike Dunleavy on March 26, go off at the Garden.
Well, if these winnable games escape the Knicks this season, there's going to be a whole lot more frustration, because a couple of wins could separate the third seed from the seventh.
That's how much more competitive the Atlantic Divison is going to be -- arguably the top division in the NBA, where every team (the Knicks, Nets, Celtics, Sixers and Raptors) has upgraded and could make the playoffs.
After practice on Thursday, Mike Woodson said winning every game is especially paramount to secure home court in the postseason.
"It's going to be more important that we establish our home court advantage. That's going to be huge," he said. "We've got to use the Garden as our friend and our family in terms of how we can compete on a night-in and night-out basis. I mean, we can't let teams come in the Garden and win, and then when we get out on the road, we've got to figure out that."
Carmelo Anthony compared the division this season to the one he played in with the Nuggets -- and he said it encouraged his team to play harder every game.
"(The Atlantic) is wide open," he told ESPNNewYork.com last week. "I've been in the Western Conference for seven and a half years, and every year that's how it was. Two games separate everybody. You lose one, you fall back, so it keeps you on edge. Now in the East, it seems like that's the new trend. As long as we do what we have to do, we'll be fine."
Novak agreed with Anthony that the added competition will add extra motivation.
"I think it's going to be an incredible division, and that's the way we want it," he told ESPNNewYork.com during the offseason. "That's when it's at its best. That's when the fans are able to enjoy it the most, and when there's teams that are truly neck-in-neck like that, that'll just make us more and more ready for every game. It's great."
The Knicks have the offensive and defensive pieces in place to "complete the team puzzle," as Woodson always says, but with the older age of the roster, he knows he has to keep his guys healthy for them to have a shot at winning the division. Last year, while suffering some injuries, the Knicks fell just a couple of games short to the Celtics.
"This is a situation where I've got guys that know how to play," Woody said, "but I've just got to gauge it and pace it, and put them in the right position to be successful."
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