With the New York Knicks already clinching the Atlantic Division title, they are already guaranteed a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. The worst they can finish is third this year, which would guarantee them home-court advantage in the first round.
Currently, the Knicks lead the Indiana Pacers for the No. 2 seed by two-and-a-half games, and they will have a crucial game against them at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, which may decide any seeding issues between the two squads.
The Knicks' last five games include two remaining home games, which are against Indiana on Sunday and Atlanta on Wednesday. The three remaining away games are against Chicago tonight, Cleveland tomorrow and Charlotte on Monday.
The Pacers wrap up their season with one home game against Brooklyn on Friday, followed by three away games—New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
Both squads have some games against playoff teams.
In order to position themselves for an easier trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Knicks need to wrap up the No. 2 seed, because they will likely have to beat the Pacers to get there, and they ought to have home-court advantage against them. Also, they can set themselves up with a weaker first-round opponent.
The Pacers currently have the best home record in the East, just a game ahead of the Knicks. On the road, however, Indiana is currently a game under .500, whereas the Knicks have the second best road record in their division behind Miami.
This isn't just a coincidence.
Indiana clearly plays much better during home games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse than anywhere else, outscoring their opponents by 7.2 points per game in Indianapolis. Away, that differential goes down to +1.9, mostly because they don't score as much.
The Knicks, on the other hand, are a bit more balanced. Although not as efficient defensively as the tough Pacers, their offense led by Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith is much more potent than the likes of Paul George and George Hill.
Clearly, with New York being a better road team than Indiana, but the Pacers being a very tough team at home, it is preferable to get the No. 2 seed with the possibility of a Game 7 to get to the finals. Obviously, the Knicks would much rather have that situation be at Madison Square Garden than Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Seeding implications make Sunday's game pretty important. The Knicks beat the Pacers at the Garden in November, but the Indiana ran New York out of the building twice at its house in Indy. A win by the Pacers would give them the season series win and the tie-breaker. A win by the Knicks will all but seal the deal for them.
Another benefit of getting the No. 2 seed is the better odds of winning in the first round. Currently, the Knicks are on pace to meet the Boston Celtics in Round 1. The Pacers are either going to face off against the Atlanta Hawks or their arch-nemeses the Chicago Bulls.
The Knicks are a better matchup against Boston than Chicago, as the Bulls, without Derrick Rose, have been able to bully the Knicks and on their own home turf (twice). In an ugly loss late last December at MSG, both teams lost their cool as the officials ejected Anthony, Tyson Chandler, coach Mike Woodson and the Bulls' Joakim Noah.
Chicago is 3-0 against New York going for the sweep tonight at the United Center, so the Knicks clearly want nothing to do with them, preferring the Bulls play either Brooklyn or Indiana.
On the other hand, New York has been more than able to take care of the aging Celtics, who are likely not going to move up or down in seeding at the end of the regular season three games ahead of Milwaukee two-and-a-half games
The Knicks determined to get as far in the playoffs as possible, with the franchise's and city's first basketball title in 40 years on their minds. In order to get there, the best case scenario would be to get the No. 2 seed to guarantee them home-court advantage through the first two rounds.