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A way-too-early look at the Knicks’ group for the In-Season Tournament

Can the Knicks get revenge on the Heat and advance to the Knockout Rounds?

NBA: Playoffs-New York Knicks at Miami Heat Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in league history, the NBA will be holding a tournament midseason this year. The dully and boringly named In-Season Tournament, which will tip off on November 3rd and conclude on December 9th, will include all 30 teams with the champion receiving the NBA Cup. Early last week, the NBA released the groups drawings giving us an early look at what the tournament could look like. The Knicks, who were placed in East Group B, will be joined by the Milwaukee Bucks, and three Southeast Division teams in the Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, and Charlotte Hornets in what could be a closely contested group headlined by three playoff teams from last season.

The Milwaukee Bucks are coming off an incredibly strange season in which they persevered through a lot of injuries. Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jrue Holiday both failed to play 70 games, and Khris Middleton appeared in only 33 games, but they still somehow found a way to finish the season with the best record in the NBA. The Bucks, however, were not able to carry their success over to the playoffs as they were quickly ousted by Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat (who we’ll talk about later on) in the first round. That being said, Milwaukee did have a combined record of 10-4 against the rest of the teams in the group last season and went 3-0 against New York so if they can stay even relatively healthy, they should be the group favorite when the tournament kicks off.

The Miami Heat will likely be the most difficult team in the group to predict for multiple reasons. They are coming off of an incredibly playoff run that saw them get to the NBA finals, but their last two regular seasons have been unexplainably disappointing, and there’s a possibility that their roster looks completely different by the time the tournament begins. They’ll very likely keep their core of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, and that, along with their usual depth, and strong coaching makes them a tough opponent that can beat any team on any given night. But history has also shown that outside of the playoffs, the current iteration of the Heat can tend to fall flat. Again, it’s difficult to forecast which version of this team decides to show up but they’ll likely be competing with the Knicks for second and third place in the group.

The Washington Wizards, who finally enter the post-Bradley Beal era, will be headlined by the newly acquired Jordan Poole and recently re-signed Kyle Kuzma. Their lack of star power and overall top end talent puts them on a whole tier lower than the Heat in terms of expectations. That being said, with the unpredictability and volatility of the Heat, there’s a chance that the Wizards, who will likely be playing loose and free, could end up finishing third. The aforementioned duo of Poole and Kuzma should both feel like they have something to prove and will want to use these nationally televised games to showcase their abilities. Expect the Wizards, who went 7-9 against the rest of the group last season, to finish fourth place.

Then there are the Charlotte Hornets, who finished 5-9 against the rest of the group last season. The LaMelo Ball-lead rebuild project has been off to a slow start due to Ball’s injuries and the off-court troubles of Miles Bridges, but they should get some much-needed help in the form of Brandon Miller. The second overall pick had a rough summer league but figures to be a very solid piece moving forward and watching him during the tournament should be fun. That being said, with the tournament taking place just months into the season, the rookie will likely still be getting his feet wet and getting used to the league. Between Ball’s injury history, Miller’s lack of NBA experience, and overall lack of talent, there’s very little reason to believe that the Hornets can make any real noise in this group. If Ball, Bridges, and Miller all get off to a hot start to the season, maybe they can challenge Washington for fourth place, but hoping for or expecting anything more would be overly ambitious. Expect a fifth-place finish for Charlotte.

Last, but certainly not least, are the New York Knicks, who as we all know, are coming off of an incredibly surprising season in which they advanced to the second round of the playoffs. With Julius Randle fully healthy, Jalen Brunson returning as the engine of this team, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Quentin Grimes potentially taking another step in their development, and Donte DiVincenzo adding some more wing depth, New York has a very strong case for being the second-best team in this group. As mentioned earlier, Miami, given their history and their ability to pull off a blockbuster trade, could certainly finish above the Knicks in group play, but New York will likely be the safer pick for a couple of reasons. They’re coming off their best regular season in a decade, they’ll have more continuity than the Heat if they do go all in for Damian Lillard, and Tom Thibodeau’s tendency to push his starters to play 35MPG while treating every regular season game like a playoff game, should bode well for a mid-season tournament. It’s likely that they struggle against the Bucks, who they went 0-3 against last season, but they should definitely beat Charlotte and Washington, who they went a combined 5-2 against last season. If Randle or Brunson do get hurt and Barrett gets off to his usual slow start, New York may slip below Miami, but the Knicks, who went 8-6 against the rest of the group last season, have a great shot at finishing top two and advancing on to the Knockout Rounds.