Breaking Down the Playoff Race

After the euphoria of last night, I wanted to take stock of where the Knicks are, how much work they have left to do, and where they could possibly end up.

First, because I don't want to jinx the Knicks by taking anything for granted, let's see what they have to do to at least ensure a playoff spot.

Knicks' (32-29) remaining schedule:

04/18 @NJ

04/20 @Cleveland (feels wrong playing on this date without Renaldo Balkman)

04/22 @Atlanta

04/25 LAC

04/26 @Charlotte

My take: At this point, losing to NJ, Cleveland, or Charlotte is simply inexcusable. This is not a knock on those teams, and I know in the NBA anything can happen on any given night, but New York is simply too talented to allow these games to slip away. Every game is a playoff game now.

Winning in Atlanta will be a tough proposition. They gave the Knicks problems in the last game, and their ability to create mismatches on the perimeter with whoever Landry Fields/Baron Davis have to guard was very problematic.

However, on three days' rest I am optimistic about the Knicks coming back home to face the Clippers. I want to see how Shumpert does against the best point guard in the NBA, and I think Melo can cause problems for Blake Griffin at the 4 on the other end.

Philadelphia (31-30) Remaining Schedule:

04/18 @Cleveland

04/21 @Indiana

04/23 @NJ

04/25 Milwaukee (This will most likely be a huge game)

04/26 @Detroit

Philadelphia has been playing really awful lately, but I can see them going 4-1 (losing in Indiana) to close out the season. They have the perimeter defenders to slow down Milwaukee and Doug Collins will not let them lose winnable games at this point. Remember, they are effectively 1.5 games behind the Knicks because of the tie-breaker.

Milwaukee (29-31) Remaning Schedule:

04/18 @Washington

04/19 @Indiana

04/21 NJ

04/23 Toronto

04/25 Philadelphia

04/26 @Boston

The first four look like 3 wins and a loss to Indiana to me. The last two are intriguing. Obviously, the game against Philly will be monumental, but in Boston? It is likely that Doc Rivers will bench his veterans to give them rest for the playoffs. Let's call it a Milwaukee win.

If things play out this way, Philadelphia would finish 35-31 (Knicks own tiebreaker by virtue of taking the season series) and Milwaukee would finish 33-33. The tiebreaker between Milwaukee and New York is conference record, with New York currently holding the edge at 25-19 to 22-20.

Here's the bottom line: The Knicks have 3 games they HAVE NO EXCUSE for losing (Cleveland, NJ, Charlotte). Winning all three gets them to 35 wins (the most Milwaukee can possibly win) and a 28-20 conference record, which is the best Milwaukee can do. If Milwaukee does win out, the next tiebreaker is w-l record against Eastern Conference playoff teams. I haven't looked this up, but I would expect the Knicks to win that tiebreaker.

Now, we can look at where the Knicks could end up. They are 3.5 games behind Boston and 4 games behind Orlando and Atlanta.

Boston (36-26) remaining schedule:

Orlando 04/18

@Atlanta 04/20

Miami 04/24

Milwaukee 04/26

Nothing easy for Boston. It's tough to gauge how well they will play because Doc's priority will be to rest his veterans.

Orlando (36-25) remaining schedule:

@Boston 04/18

@Utah 04/21

@Denver 04/22

Charlotte 04/25

@Memphis 04/26

There is one guaranteed win here. I could easily see them losing all four games. The question now becomes, who do the Knicks root for tonight? Boston or Orlando?

Atlanta (36-25)

Detroit 04/18

Boston 04/20

NY 04/22

LAC 04/24

Dallas 04/26

Again, besides Detroit, Atlanta could lose all of these games.

How can the Knicks catch any of these teams? Well, if they win out, it would include a win against Atlanta. If Atlanta beats Detroit and loses the rest of their games (not out of the realm of possibility) that would put them at 37-29 and tied with the Knicks, with the Knicks owning the season series (it's 1-1 now but in this scenario the Knicks would have beaten Atlanta). If Atlanta beats the Knicks then the Knicks cannot finish above Atlanta period.

Boston is an interesting case.

  • If New York wins out and Boston wins one game, the two would be tied with 37 wins apiece. They split the season series, but in this scenario Boston would be 30-18 in conference and New York would be just 29-19. Thus, Boston wins the division
  • If New York goes 4-1 and Boston goes 0-4, the teams would be tied with 36 wins apiece. However, Boston would be 29-19 in conference, and in that case it would depend who the Knicks loss came against. If the Knicks' sole loss is to LAC (in the last 5 games), then they would finish 29-19 in conference as well. The next tiebreaker would be record against Eastern Conference playoff teams, and I don't know what the teams' records are but I'd assume Boston has the edge.

Basically, New York has to win out and hope Boston loses out.

Orlando has one guaranteed win over Charlotte. I don't like to say guaranteed win when the Knicks play poor teams, but with Orlando we have to assume the worst. But the other 4 games are against .500 or better teams on the road. If Orlando goes 1-4 and the Knicks win out, both would have 37 wins. However, the Knicks own the season series. So in this scenario the Knicks would end up with the better seed.

That's pretty much it. To me, it seems like the Knicks' best chance to avoid the Bulls-Heat is for a dysfunctional Orlando team to implode with tough road games. Atlanta has a tough schedule as well, but most of their remaining games are at home. And Boston owns all the tiebreakers with us.

So root for Boston tonight? What do you guys think?

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