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Which remaining playoff team(s) should Knicks fans root for?

Time to rate the Hateful Eight.

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

It’s been a long, long time since the Knicks played a season chock full of as much intrigue as this one. It took a while to get comfortable with them winning in the first place; once that was established, there were weeks and weeks of jostling for seeding up to the very last game of the year. The playoffs were a disappointing though nevertheless dramatic quintet. So now what? You got eight teams left and don’t really care a whit about any of ‘em. How do you know how to watch now?

Let’s go through each of the four series and figure out who’s worth your time and who’s best left to the rust and the rot, uncared for and unremembered.

Phoenix Suns vs. Denver Nuggets

There were only five teams the Knicks didn’t beat this season, and these are two of them. The Nuggets won both matchups by an average of 20.5 points; the Suns were no slouches, either, sweeping the season series by 13.5 points per game. Both Western powers continued a recent history of mastery over Manhattan’s main men: Denver’s taken 11 of their last 12 vs. the Knicks whereas Phoenix has won six straight against them. They both been bullying the blue and orange.

The OAKAAKUYOAK connection is a little stronger with the Suns, who count former Knick Langston Galloway among their number. But Galloway is hardly a historic Knick, and outside of nine minutes in garbage time during Phoenix’s 30-point Game 5 rout of the Lakers, he hasn’t played this postseason. The Nugget ex-Knicks are even more of a stretch. You got Austin Rivers, who was a Knick for five minutes yet somehow emerged with an Arron Aflalo-sized bushel of angst after that brief run. Jamal Murray isn’t playing in the series due to injury and never played for the Knicks, but he was the player Denver drafted with their last Knicks pick from the 2011 Carmelo Anthony trade, if that does anything for you.

There are a fair number of players in this series who were near-Knicks. You may have heard rumors linking Chris Paul to the Knicks in 2011 and 2020. Mikal Bridges and Michael Porter Jr. could both have been Knicks; instead we have Fortnite. Frank Kaminsky and Cameron Payne have never played for New York, but both are KTP alums. There’s not a lot of Knick-related reasons to root for either of these teams, quite frankly. I’m rooting for Denver because Bol Bol is on the Nuggets. And because when I think of Bol (another KTP alum) I remember his father Manute, and the wonder I felt as a kid watching the 7-foot-7 Sudanese dream throw hands at Anthony Mason, captivated one pleasant afternoon by my mind’s attempts at sketching what such a fight would look like.

There’s also the time in the ‘80s when Manute kicked the shit out of Jawaan Oldham, a Chicago Bull who wore #33. In the ‘90s the Knicks would also get physical with #33 on the Bulls, Scottie Pippen. For that symmetry alone, karma says root for the Nuggets.

Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Clippers

The Knicks split their season series with the West’s other semifinalists, but as with the Suns and Nuggets the Jazz and the Clippers have had the Knicks’ number for years: Utah under Quin Snyder is 11-3 against New York; L.A.’s won 15 of the last 17 meetings. OAKAAKUYOAK energy is hard to find in this matchup — Marcus Morris had a memorable run as a Knick and an equally memorable payoff.

Less memorably, the Clippers’ Daniel Oturu was drafted by the Knicks in 2020, then immediately shipped to L.A. for a Pistons’ second-rounder in 2023. As spiritual guideposts go, Morris and Oturu are more magic 8-ball than heaven-thundered. But if the devil’s in the details the divine’s in the daffy. Karma says you’re all good rooting for either team in this series. If the Clippers lose, the Kawhi-to-the-Knicks rumors explode; if the Jazz fall, Donovan Mitchell’s name will be linked with New York. If either is a Knick anytime soon, one team’s L goes down as one big fat W for NY.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Milwaukee Bucks

When it comes to this series I imagine most Knicks fans share an allegiance with our Wisconsin comrades. That hasn’t always been the case. There is a long history of these two teams hurting one another. In 1970 the Knicks snapped the Lew Alcindor-led Bucks’ 16-game winning streak; a year earlier New York had set the record with 18 in a row. In November of ‘72 the Knicks trailed the Bucks by 18 before ending the game with a 19-0 run and a one-point win. Patrick Ewing was never the same player after breaking his wrist on an attempted alley-oop in Milwaukee a few days before Christmas 1997. That wasn’t the last time a gifted Knick big was never the same post-Bucks.

Ouch. Not even Mario Hezonja getting over on Giannis Antetokounmpo, then stepping over him, can override some of those pains. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it.

There’s no way I’m rooting for the Nets, who smugly tsk-tsk their way through life. Their only OAKAAKUYOAK vibe is DeAndre Jordan, who was perfectly satisfactory but not a significant source of emotional investment. I’ve seen too much in life to care one way or the other about Bobby Portis. Thanasis Antetokounmpo, you’re remembered as the far more deserving beneficiary of your brother’s badassery than Chris Smith. Jrue Holiday is the brother of Justin Holiday. I still miss Justin Holiday sometimes. Go, Bucks.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Atlanta Hawks

You’re painfully aware Atlanta ended this season for New York. Did you know Philadelphia ended their first? In the 1947 BAA playoffs the Philadelphia Warriors defeated the Knickerbockers in the best-of-3 semifinals. The first four times the Knicks met a City of Brotherly Love side in the playoffs, they lost, a streak broken in 1989.

The Knicks and Hawks have met three times in the postseason including this year. In 1971 the Knicks knocked them out in five in a series that featured Pete Maravich against Clyde Frazier.

In 1999 the Knicks and Hawks met in the second round. The Knicks were riding high after their last-second series win over Miami and if you were alive then you just knew there was no way that Atlanta team was gonna stop them. Reader, they didn’t.

Come for the Camby dunks. Stay for the crowd chanting “Jeff Van Gundy” while the broadcasters talk about Knick president Dave Checketts admitting he lied to JVG and the press regarding talking with Phil Jackson about the head coaching job while Van Gundy was leading the team in the playoffs. And here some of you thought front office intrigue was something James Dolan invented.

The Hawks just eliminated the Knicks 4-1. The 76ers have won 15 in a row against them. It’s the Atlanta losses that linger. Maybe because Philadelphia’s success has mostly happened while the Knicks were a bad team; though 15 Ls > 4 Ls, those 15 didn’t have nearly at much at stake. I watch the Hawks now with a mix of greater respect and distaste. I admire and loathe them. I suppose if they won this series it’d make the Knicks look better in retrospect; the hype train would go off the rails if Atlanta advanced to the conference finals for just the second time since moving from St. Louis in 1968. Then again, sometimes you just want to know whoever hurt you can’t hurt anyone else. In which case. 1-2-3-4-5-Sixers.

Who are you rooting for? Or against? Tell us why in the comments. Let’s talk, loves.

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