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New York Knicks: The Road Map to Their First NBA Playoff Appearance in 7 Years

Paul KasabianCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2017

New York Knicks: The Road Map to Their First NBA Playoff Appearance in 7 Years

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The New York Knicks are trying to avoid the ignominy of becoming the sixth team in NBA history to have 10 consecutive losing seasons (research done via Basketball-Reference). Luckily for the men in blue and orange, a winning season is not needed for a ticket into the Eastern Conference playoffs.

    The Knicks, currently in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with a 36-38 record, can finish as high as sixth place or as low as 10th if the sky falls, pigs fly and Knicks owner James Dolan slashes season-ticket prices next season (that Axe commercial where angels literally fall from the sky will happen in real life before Dolan reneges on his mission to raise season tickets 49 percent next season).

    The following slideshow acts as a road map for the rest of the Knicks' regular season, ending with predictions on where the Knicks will finish and who they will face in the playoffs.

The Current Situation

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Here is a ranking of the sixth through 10th place teams in the Eastern Conference, with the remaining schedules of each team listed as well. As said before, the Knicks cannot mathematically finish outside the six through 10 range. The ampersand reflects a road game. 

    6. Philadelphia 76ers: 38-36 (HOU, NJ, @MIL, @BOS, NYK, TOR, ORL, DET)

    7. New York Knicks: 36-38 (NJ, CLE, TOR, @PHI, @NJ, @IND, CHI, @BOS) 

    8. Indiana Pacers: 33-42 (DET, MIL, @NO, WAS, ATL, NYK, @ORL)

    9. Charlotte Bobcats: 31-42 (CLE, @ORL, WAS, @CLE, ORL, @MIA, DET, @NJ, ATL)

    10. Milwaukee Bucks: 29-44 (@TOR, @IND, PHI, @ORL, @MIA, @DET, CLE, TOR, @OKC)

Best-Case Scenario: Knicks Finish Sixth

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    6. Philadelphia 76ers: 38-36 (HOU, NJ, @MIL, @BOS, NYK, TOR, ORL, DET)

    7. New York Knicks: 36-38 (NJ, CLE, TOR, @PHI, @NJ, @IND, CHI, @BOS) 

    Philadelphia currently has a 23-12 home record, and six of its last eight games are at the friendly confines of the Wells-Fargo Center—three of which are against poor teams that have little (Detroit) to no chance (New Jersey, Toronto) of making the playoffs. A record worse than 42-40 is hard to fathom, while a 43- or 44-win mark is more realistic.

    The 76ers currently own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Knicks, 2-1, but that will be moot if the Knicks spring the road win at Philadelphia next month. From there, the next tiebreaker is division record, where the 76ers (7-5) currently hold the edge over the Knicks (6-5).

Middle Ground: Can the Knicks Hold off Indiana for 7th?

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    7. New York Knicks: 36-38 (NJ, CLE, TOR, @PHI, @NJ, @IND, CHI, @BOS) 

    8. Indiana Pacers: 33-42 (DET, MIL, @NO, WAS, ATL, NYK, @ORL)

    The Knicks will only need to win five of their remaining eight games to hold off the Pacers. Meanwhile, the Pacers' schedule isn't terrible, with five of their seven games at home. However, road games at New Orleans and Orlando are daunting.

    The Pacers currently hold a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over the Knicks. If New York beats Indiana, but finishes tied with them in the standings, the next tiebreaker will be conference record since the two teams are in different divisions. Currently, Indiana is 24-22 in the East, while the Knicks are 22-22.

Worst-Case Scenario: Knicks Miss Playoffs

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    7. New York Knicks: 36-38 (NJ, CLE, TOR, @PHI, @NJ, @IND, CHI, @BOS)

    8. Indiana Pacers: 33-42 (DET, MIL, @NO, WAS, ATL, NYK, @ORL)

    9. Charlotte Bobcats: 31-42 (CLE, @ORL, WAS, @CLE, ORL, @MIA, DET, @NJ, ATL)

    10. Milwaukee Bucks: 29-44 (@TOR, @IND, PHI, @ORL, @MIA, @DET, CLE, TOR, @OKC)

    If the Knicks win four games and finish 40-42, they will make the playoffs even if Indiana and Charlotte win the rest of their contests. In that unlikely scenario, the three teams would be thrown into a head-to-head tiebreaker, with Charlotte already doomed to bring up the rear since it went a combined 1-5 against New York (1-2) and Indiana (0-3). 

    Milwaukee owns a tiebreaker with the Knicks thanks to a 3-1 head-to-head record, but that's as useless as a rope of sand with the Bucks 6.5 games behind the seventh seed with only nine games left to play.

John Hollinger's Predictions

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    ESPN.com's John Hollinger, who is to basketball what Bill James is to baseball, gives the Knicks a 99.9 percent chance to make the playoffs. In fact, he pencils the Bobcats and Bucks to have 35-47 and 33-49 records, respectively, meaning the Knicks would make the playoffs even if they lost the rest of their regular-season games. 

    Ultimately, he says the Knicks will be 40-42 and own the seventh seed, slated to face the 58-24 Miami Heat.

My Predictions

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    I may or may not have said the Knicks would finish with 45 wins and the sixth seed in an article I wrote following the Carmelo Anthony trade. 

    Since I can't accurately remember, I'll make a new prediction: The Knicks will finish 41-41, good enough for the seventh seed. Their games can be grouped into two categories: non-playoff teams (New Jersey twice, Toronto, Cleveland) and playoff teams (Indiana, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago). They'll find a way to lose one game from the first category, and steal two games from the latter category by hook or crook.

    As for the Knicks' opponent, since the Bulls and Heat are on the rise, while the Celtics can't adjust to life after Kendrick Perkins, let's put Chicago and Miami in the top two slots, with Boston falling to third. That would set up Chicago-Indiana, Miami-New York, Boston-Philadelphia and Orlando-Atlanta in the Eastern Conference playoffs. That's one hell of an opening-round slate.

    While a 41-41 mark means that the Knicks will go 10 consecutive seasons without a winning record, joining the Pistons, Clippers, Mavericks, Warriors and Kings as the only NBA franchises to undergo that dishonor, New York will be 0-0 come playoff time. Perhaps they can become the first team since the 1981 Houston Rockets to make the NBA Finals with a non-winning record.

    On second thought, let's not get too ahead of ourselves.

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