For the New York Knicks to avoid a first-round matchup against the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat, they must take care of business tonight against the Boston Celtics and get a lot of help the rest of the way.
There are several scenarios that, if played out correctly, could allow the Knicks to remove themselves from the No. 7 or 8 slot and move up as high as the No. 4 seed.
It's damn near impossible, but still mathematically feasible. Here are the situations.
To Win the Atlantic Division:
The only way the Knicks can still win the division is by beating the Celtics tonight and winning the rest of their games. In addition, the Celtics have to lose out the rest of the way. If this happens, the Knicks would finish 37-29 and the Celtics would finish 36-30.
It's not ludicrous to believe when you look at the Celtics' remaining opponents (Orlando, Atlanta, Miami and Milwaukee), but it is when you consider how well the Celtics have been playing as of late. It would be a catastrophic collapse if the Celtics were to lose out the rest of the way.
Even though their remaining opponents are all potential playoff teams, the Celtics have gone 8-1 in games against these four teams this season. Plus, with Dwight Howard out for tomorrow night's game, it's hard to believe the Celtics are going to lose that one.
A Knicks loss and 76ers loss tonight would clinch the Atlantic Division for the Celtics.
Chances Knicks win the division: 5 percent
To Get the No. 5 Seed:
The Knicks must go either 6-0 or 5-1.
If the Knicks lose one game, the Hawks will have to lose out. By winning their last six and the Hawks losing at least three of their other four remaining games, the Knicks will own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Same goes for Orlando; the Knicks own the tiebreaker but will need them to also lose at least four of its last five games and the Knicks must win their last six. If the Knicks lose one game, Orlando must lose out.
If this plays out, the Knicks, Hawks and Magic can all finish at 36-30 or 37-29 and the Knicks would be the No. 5 seed based on their head-to-head matchups with these two teams.
However, this is certainly asking a lot. While the Magic and Hawks both have pretty difficult schedules remaining, I find it pretty unlikely that they both completely fall apart to end the season. If it played out, the Knicks would once again face the Celtics in the first round, which probably isn't even in the Knicks' best interest.
Chances Knicks get the No. 5 Seed: 10 percent
To Get the No. 6 Seed:
This may be the best chance the Knicks have at moving up, and by best I don't mean great. If either Orlando or Atlanta loses four of its last five, and the Knicks finish perfect to end the season, the Knicks will get the No. 6 seed.
Atlanta's remaining opponents are the Pistons April 18, the Celtics April 20, the Knicks April 22, the Clippers April 24 and the Mavericks April 26.
The Pistons are the only layup the Hawks have the rest of the way. Assuming they win that game, it's feasible that they could lose their last four games to playoff opponents.
Orlando's remaining opponents are the Celtics April 18, the Jazz April 21, the Nuggets April 22, the Bobcats April 25 and the Grizzlies April 26.
Like Atlanta, Orlando has only one layup game remaining, and that would be against the seven-win Bobcats. The rest of its games will be against playoff teams, and without Howard the rest of the way, this scenario is also feasible.
The No. 6 seed may be the best chance for the Knicks to move up in the standings. If one of these two teams can falter, and the Knicks can win out, it could happen. Losing any game the rest of the way all but solidifies the Knicks having to play either Miami or Chicago in the first round.
The chances aren't great, but if the scenario plays out, the Knicks would have a much more favorable matchup in the first round against the Indiana Pacers.
Chances Knicks get the No. 6 Seed: 25 percent.
We'll see what happens, but it all starts tonight.