If the NBA season ended today, the New York Knicks would miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. The season doesn't end today, but when it does on April 16, the Knicks will probably be in the same, sorry position.
After burying themselves in the standings by going just 21-40 through their first 61 contests, the defending Atlantic Division champions find themselves three back in the loss column of the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks with 12 games left on the schedule.
Following a rejuvenating 54-win campaign in 2012-13, this season purportedly was to be filled with similar success. Now, Mike Woodson's crew is chasing the improbable dream of a mere playoff berth.
Despite Atlanta's recent struggles, paired with New York's mini-surge, the Knicks own only an 8.1 percent chance of appearing in the postseason, according to ESPN.com's John Hollinger. All things considered, that modest projection is just as optimistic as it should be.
Hollinger's number ironically brings a preseason projection back to the forefront—one that had Knicks fans, and much of the NBA world, up in arms. It was five months ago when ESPN published it's SCHOENE projection for New York, and it was five months ago that Knicks fans laughed off the possibility of a mediocre 37-win season.
Now, they'll need every last one of those 37 victories to merely advance to the postseason.
It's true that the Knicks just recently ran off eight straight victories, narrowing the gap between them and the eighth playoff seed while re-injecting hope into the team's fanbase. But what's also true is that New York's good fortune very well may have peaked with that stretch.
They're coming off a terrible loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at home, in a game they led by 17. All the good sentiments brought on by an eight-game winning streak were all but wiped away with one ugly loss. According to ESPN New York, coach Mike Woodson suffered the loss with standings in mind, while Carmelo Anthony sang a different tune:
"It's tough," Woodson said, "It's very tough. We could have moved within two games, I think, had we taken care of business."
For what feels like the 30th time this season, the Knicks failed to do that. And it leaves Woodson and his team in a difficult spot. According to Elias Sports Bureau, just one team in the past 30 years has overcome a deficit of more than four games with 14 games or fewer to play in the regular season to make the playoffs.
New York trailed Atlanta by four games with 14 to go late last week.
“We can’t worry about how many wins it’s gonna take,” Anthony said. “We gotta go play.”
On Wednesday, New York will finish its 11-of-12 game stretch against sub-.500 teams, which dates back to March 3. They'll travel to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers, then take on the lowly Sacramento Kings (who previously beat the Knicks at MSG last month) before being hosted by the eighth-seeded Phoenix Suns on March 28.
Of the Knicks' final 10 games, nine contests (against seven teams) will be played against teams currently slated to make the postseason. All seven teams are above .500, and the Knicks have gone 7-24 against winning teams this season.
And if games against those squads come down to the wire, don't expect the Knicks to pull off any dramatic upsets. They've won just two games when the score has been decided by three points or less, and they have dropped seven such tilts.
Atlanta, who the Knicks will need to overtake for a playoff berth, faces a much more pleasant ride to the finish.
Of the Hawks' final 13 contests, six come against teams that are lottery-bound. They'll face seven teams with losing records, and they are 23-11 against teams under .500 this year. They'll play just two teams from the Western Conference, who they've won only 10 games against in 28 tries. They've actually posted a winning record against Eastern foes.
A simple comparison of New York and Atlanta's remaining schedules is enough to convince even the more hopeful of Knicks diehards that the outlook for playoff hoops is grim at best.
But what if, by some miracle, the Knicks manage to defy the odds and squeak into the East's final playoff slot? What about if they even manage to overtake the Charlotte Bobcats for the seventh seed, if we're feeling especially hypothetical?
Another certainty: They'd get waxed in one short series, and New York would take a first-round exit for the third time in four years.
The only way the Knicks would have an outside chance at repeating a playoff run of last season's length would be in nailing down the East's sixth seed, as they'd be taking on either the Toronto Raptors or Chicago Bulls. They're currently seven games out of sixth place in the loss column. Not impossible, but...actually, yes, impossible.
Even if the Knicks do manage to crack the East's top eight, the odds of them making any sort of noise once they arrive there are barely existent, if at all.
After going 3-1 against Miami last season, the Knicks have dropped their last two affairs against the defending champs by double-digits. They've gone 1-2 against the Pacers this season, most recently with an impressive win at home with new president Phil Jackson looking on courtside. Still, New York is getting outscored by Indy 102-92 on average this year.
It's a grim reality for the Knicks and one that fans dreaded all summer long. The team was a disaster and is now being forced to pick up its broken pieces in a panicked, late-season playoff push.
Making the postseason is far-fetched and even if the team slides into the playoffs, it'll be a short and disheartening stay, where they'll be pulverized by an East powerhouse before cleaning out the locker room and preparing for another season of bloated payroll and the same dysfunctional roster.
Well, minus Carmelo Anthony. The only thing less likely than a Knicks playoff berth is 'Melo signing away the rest of his prime to a Knicks franchise that hasn't surrounded him with competent talent in their four years together. Carmelo's not making the same mistake twice. Not after this disaster.