Knicks' brutal upcoming schedule could make playoff push tricky

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Ian Begley
·4 min read
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Knicks Derrick Rose, Reggie Bullock and RJ Barrett celebrate
Knicks Derrick Rose, Reggie Bullock and RJ Barrett celebrate

Monday’s loss to Phoenix left the Knicks tied with Atlanta for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

If the Knicks finish fourth, they’d have home-court advantage in a first-round series against the No. 5 seed.

The top six seeds in the Eastern Conference will earn a trip to the playoffs.

The teams that finish No. 7 – No. 10 will compete in a play-in tournament to determine the No. 7 and No. 8 seed.

Thanks to their recent nine-game winning streak, the Knicks are a lock to finish in the top 10 of the Eastern Conference. They are 7.5 games ahead of 11th place Chicago with 10 games to play).

The key for the Knicks is to finish within the top 6 spots in the East. That will be challenging because the Knicks have the sixth toughest remaining schedule in the league, per tankathon.com

The Hawks (20th) and Celtics (27th) have some of the easiest remaining schedules in the NBA. New York will enter play Tuesday 1.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Celtics. So it won’t be easy for the Knicks to finish within the top six and avoid the play-in tournament.

If New York finishes seventh or eighth, the club would need to win one game in the play-in tournament to secure a playoff berth. If the Knicks finish in 9th or 10th, they would have to win two games to earn a playoff spot.

If the Knicks make the playoffs, they will snap an eight year drought.

Randle off vs. Phoenix

Julius Randle didn’t shoot well from the field against Phoenix. In a rare off night for the All-Star, Randle missed 11-of-17 shots and finished with 18 points. Tom Thibodeau didn’t think the Suns threw a defense at Randle that he hadn’t seen before.

“They played smaller on him and they were coming on the pass to the double team, and we can play off that and we can get quality shots,” Thibodeau said. “And so the game tells you what shots you're gonna get, and the responsibility of the primary scorer is to make the right play. So get the ball out and move it and we’ve got to space the floor properly, and we can get quality offense off that. But (on Monday) I felt like our defense was the thing that led us down.”

The Knick defense struggled to contain Phoenix in the second half. The Suns went 9-for-18 from beyond the arc in the final two quarters. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson both hit key 3-pointers down the stretch. Chris Paul closed the Knicks out with three tough shots in the final two minutes. One of them was a circus shot with the shot-clock winding down, giving Phoenix a five-point lead with 45 seconds to play.

“We've got to get a stop. I thought we had good pretty good defense on Chris and he made a tough shot. So, tip your hat. we’ve got to get going again,” Thibodeau said.

Why no CP3 in NYC?

The Knicks were among the teams interested in trading for Paul in the 2020 offseason. The club decided against parting with the assets that Oklahoma City was asking for in a Paul trade. Thibodeau was asked whether the Knicks and Paul had mutual interest in one another last offseason.

“Well, I don’t think he liked the president here,” Thibodeau joked, referencing Knicsk team president Leon Rose’s former role as an agent to Paul at CAA.

“A player like that, you look at where he is and what stage he’s at in his career. He’s looking at what might be the best fit for him – and he’s earned that. He’s had an incredible career,” Thibodeau added of Paul.

The coach acknowledged that, as you’d expect, he thought about the possibility of adding Paul during the 2020 offseason.

“When that time of the year comes, you look at all the possibilities. You think about who can fit your team. And it has to work both ways,” Thibodeau said. “The type of player that he is, you knew he would look around. And you also look at the window. Look at where he is age wise and what he was looking for. We knew he would have a lot of options. I’m happy with the guys we got and I’m sure he’s happy with (where he is).”