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The Knicks find themselves at 26-27 following Friday’s nail-biter against the Grizzlies, still firmly in the East’s eighth seed with 19 games left on the schedule. What looked like a surefire playoff berth a couple weeks ago after such consistent play all season is now somewhat up in the air following a stretch of five losses in six games prior to Friday.
If the Knicks lose their edge now, at the worst time possible, this dream season could still end on a sour note, despite the handful of games remaining. Here’s a look at the gauntlet that lies ahead of New York, and what their chances are of overcoming it to make their first postseason since 2013.
At a high level, the top basketball projection models still have the Knicks very much in decent shape. FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR player ratings give the Knicks a 37 percent chance of making the Playoffs, and their Elo forecast sits at 62 percent. The Ringer’s NBA Odds Machine is highest, with a 70 percent chance. ESPN’s BPI is a lot less friendly, with a 23.6 percent probability, while Basketball-Reference gives them 59.7 percent.
These mixed results line up with New York’s unpredictable nature and tough remaining schedule. Looking at the situation’s best and worst case scenarios, the good news is it’ll be nearly impossible for the Knicks to fall out of appearing in a play-in game, at the very least.
They’re 5.5 games ahead of the 11th seed Raptors, and it would take a massive losing streak on New York’s part coinciding with Toronto going off to swing things. The Raptors have their own injury bug and late-season west coast swing to handle, plus another two meetings with the Knicks that should decide things. Either team sweeping that series would likely swing this scenario, but Knicks fans can feel relatively safe against them, even with a split.
Should the Knicks be forced to appear in a play-in game, they’ll likely be going against the Bulls, Pacers or whichever of Atlanta, Miami, Boston or Charlotte slips into the last four slots. In a single-game elimination, there’s no opponent the Knicks should write off or think they can’t beat, but a few of those names certainly stick out as their best chance of advancing.
New York can try and bolster their tiebreakers and potential home court advantage in a play-in game with two remaining contests against the Hornets, one against the Bulls and one against the Hawks. They’re currently one game ahead of the ninth spot and one behind the seventh, leaving the margin for error slim, though they’re also only two games out of the fourth spot in the East.
A four seed will likely end up a pipe dream due to the Knicks’ west coast swing to close the season. Assuming some sort of 5-5 split of the next 10 games featuring a mix of mediocre East teams and West playoff teams, they then travel to Houston, Memphis, Denver, Phoenix, and L.A. for a bout with both the Clippers and Lakers. An ugly showing on that trip leaves them three games to repair the damage against the Spurs, Hornets and Celtics.
Thankfully the Knicks don’t have to continue blowing past expectations to secure a playoff spot. Timely wins against the Hornets and Hawks while maintaining their dominance over beatable opponents could bridge the 1.5-game gap between the Knicks and the sixth seed, which would avoid a play-in game. Plus this team has been known to come away with some surprise victories, and barring any major meltdowns they’ll get to fight for their postseason berth.
New York’s very real path to the Playoffs is laid out for them, despite the recent losses. If Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and coach Tom Thibodeau can get their team winning at the right moments, this magical season could have the ending it deserves.