Knicks/Bucks tiebreaker math explained in full

Today, Wednesday, April 11th, is the biggest game of the Knicks season so far, as we face the Bucks in a battle that will go a long way to determining if the Knicks make the playoffs. Philadelphia is in the mix too as three teams fight for two spots, and has a lot of road games left, but I think it's safe to say that despite all the road games, Philly has the easiest schedule of the three teams left, they play a lot of bad teams and nobody really really good. That hasn't stopped Philly from losing a ton of games lately, but I want to focus on the scenario where the Bucks and Knicks tie for the final spot in the playoffs and see who gets in, because it is more likely then the 3 way tie scenario IMO, I expect Philly will either make the playoffs cleanly or just fall apart and none of this will matter and the Knicks will be in anyway.

First off is the easy one, although not a good one. If we lose tomorrow to the Deer, Milwaukee will own the tiebreaker with a 3-1 season head to head record, and we will have to finish ahead of them to make the playoffs.

If the Knicks win tomorrow, the season series will be at 2-2, and we move on to the next tiebreaker. Here's where it gets ugly.

The next tiebreaker is record vs. the East. The Knicks have a one half game lead on the Bucks in this category right now, but a one game lead in the standings. If the Knicks win tomorrow (and if they don't, this is moot because the Bucks already get the tiebreaker), the Knicks will have a 1.5 game lead in the East records but a two game lead in the standings.

Where did this half game come from? We still have one Western team left on our schedule, we face the Clippers in the second to last game of the season. Here's where it gets odd:

If we BEAT the Clippers and end up tied with the Bucks, we LOSE the tiebreaker vs. the Bucks. Because that means the Knicks will have lost 2 games on the Bucks down the stretch, and both losses will have come against Eastern teams, while the Bucks have gained 2 games with all their victories coming against Eastern teams. There is no way the Bucks can tie the Knicks in record and not win the tiebreaker if the Knicks have defeated both the Bucks and the Clippers.

But if we LOSE to the Clippers and end up tied with the Bucks, we will end up tied at the end of the season with the Bucks in the Eastern conference record category. The Bucks will have gained two games on us after falling to us on Wednesday, however the Knicks will have only lose one of those games vs. an East team, so there is no way the Knicks and Bucks do not have an identical record vs. the East if they end up tied when the season is over and the Knicks have beat the Bucks but lost to the Clippers

So now we have to go to the next tiebreaker, which is record vs. Eastern playoff teams. Right now, the Knicks are 9-11 vs. teams in the East playoffs, with 3 games left vs. Eastern playoff teams (remember, we are assuming Philly stays in here, otherwise this would be pointless to do). Milwaukee is 4-15 with 4 Eastern playoff teams left. Even if every game here breaks right for the Bucks, they beat all the playoff teams they have left and we lose to all of ours remaining, we will be 9-14 and they will be 8-15. So we will WIN the tiebreaker in this spot.

So, in conclusion, for the Knicks to win the tiebreaker over Milwaukee for the 8th seed, or any seed really, in the playoffs, the Knicks must do two things:

1) Beat the Bucks

2) LOSE to the Clippers

If both of these things do not occur, the Knicks will not win the tiebreaker. Of course, if the Knicks beat the Bucks and beat the Clippers, that's pretty cool too, because it's one less game the Bucks can make up on us to even force a tiebreaker from our initial two game lead on them. But the main point to remember from all of this is this:

If we are going down the stretch and trying to hold off the Bucks with a 1 game lead, losing to the Clippers won't really matter. We may drop a game, but we will win the tiebreaker, so it's ok. Only good things can happen in the Clippers game if we are ahead of the Bucks at that point, either we clinch because we won our second to last game and they lost their game 65, or we are still a de facto one game up on them because we now own the tiebreaker. Also, if we are two games up on them by the time the Clippers roll around, we are in, period.

If we are going down the stretch and we are tied with the Bucks or trying to catch them, we are in big trouble, because we really will lose to the Clippers no matter what. Either we lose to the Clippers for real and take a hit in the standings or we beat them and lose the tiebreaker to the Bucks, so we lose anyway. If we are tied or behind Milwaukee down the stretch, we better plan on making the playoffs without the need of the tiebreaker, because we won't win it.

I hope this answered some of the questions some of you had and/or answered some of the questions some of you didn't know you had quite yet.

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