Pool play for the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament comes to a close tonight, and the New York Knicks find themselves on the cusp of advancing from group play to the 8-team, single elimination rounds.
Year one of the NBA Cup was initially met with (reasonable) skepticism, as players and fans found it hard to buy into an unproven concept that would affect the circadian rhythm of a traditional regular season. But as group play has progressed, the games have truly turned into an extra reason to sit down and watch. Fancy jerseys, new courts, and something tangible to play for has encouraged fans and players alike to turn the IST into a better product.
With a plethora of advancement scenarios still possible, the Knicks will have to look towards the point differential column to determine whether or not they move on.
New York followed up a disappointing opening loss to Damian Lillard and the Milwaukee Bucks by cruising to a victory against the Washington Wizards, then turning in one of the most inspiring performances in years against the Miami Heat, coming back from a 21-point hole to get revenge on their playoff foes in MSG. Their record is 2-1, and that leaves them with two possible paths to move onto the next round.
The first way the Knicks could advance is by winning East Group B. The winners of the three pools in the East secure automatic advancement to the next round, and while unlikely, this is still a possibility for New York.
A Bucks loss and a Knicks win would leave the Bucks, Knicks, and Heat tied atop Group B with 3-1 records. The Knicks sit at +18, while the Bucks have a +39 differential. If the margin of Milwaukee’s loss and the margin of New York’s win added up to more than 21 points, the difference between the two squads, the Knicks would end up winners of Group B.
The other way, and probably the more likely way, would be to secure the East Wild Card and secure the fourth and final Eastern Conference spot to move on. The best point differential out of second place teams also advances onto the next round.
Looking outward to others vying for the spot, the Cavs in Group A have a 2-1 record, and they play their final game of pool play tonight against Atlanta. But their PD stands at +6, so if the Knicks beat the Hornets by more than 12 points than the Cavs can beat the Hawks, then New York would maintain a lead over the Cavaliers.
In Group C, the Magic are already done with pool play, and sit with a 3-1 record. Their PD is +22. The Celtics are at 2-1, but have an even PD of 0. If the Knicks end up winning by more than 4, they should top any team that comes out of Group C, too.
Phew. Still don’t get it? That’s ok. I’m not sure if I fully do, either.
The bottom line is that if the Knicks want to advance, they need to beat the Hornets by a lot. If that happens, things should work themselves out. We’ll see how everything unfolds tonight. Go Knicks.