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Knicks 2020-21 Schedule: Top Games, Championship Odds and Record Predictions

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2020

New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett reacts in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Friday, March 6, 2020, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

The New York Knicks have missed the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons, but with a new head coach in Tom Thibodeau, the organization is hoping to take a step forward in 2020-21.

If the Knicks are going to improve upon last season's 21-45 record, they will have to primarily rely upon their young players such as RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina and rookie first-round pick Obi Toppin, although that plan hasn't paid dividends in recent years.

Knicks fans continue to grow restless over the lack of success for the past several years, and while there is room for a downtrodden team or two to improve and reach the playoffs next season in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks haven't yet shown any signs that they can be that team.

As New York attempts to turn things around, here is a look at its first-half 2020-21 schedule, along with predictions for how its season will play out.

          

2020-21 Knicks Schedule Details

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Season Opener: Dec. 23 at Indiana Pacers (7 p.m. ET)

Championship Odds: 250-1 (via FanDuel)

First-Half Schedule: NBA.com

       

Top Matchups

Brooklyn Nets (First Meeting: Jan. 13)

The battle of New York between the Knicks and Nets always matters to fans regardless of how good either team is, but it will take on even greater meaning during the 2020-21 season.

After signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last offseason, the Nets are expected to be a big-time factor in the Eastern Conference next season, and they could even vie for a spot in the NBA Finals if KD and Kyrie are healthy and as productive as hoped.

The star power of Durant and Irving adds intrigue to the battle of New York, as does the fact that the Knicks were believed to be in the running to sign both stars.

They ultimately decided to go with the Nets over the Knicks, so there may be some added motivation for the New York players and fans to prove the superstar duo made the wrong decision.

Given the lack of established star players the Knicks possess in comparison to the Nets, Brooklyn will undoubtedly be a substantial favorite when they first meet.

Beating the Nets would be a major coup for New York's young players, though, and it could be the type of defining moment they need in order to start taking significant steps toward NBA stardom.

No matter what, the addition of Durant and Irving to the mix adds far more intrigue to the Nets vs. Knicks rivalry than there has been in quite some time.

          

Chicago Bulls (First Meeting: Feb. 1)

A team that is expected to be closer to the Knicks' level in 2020-21 than the Nets is the Chicago Bulls, who finished 1.5 games ahead of New York in 2019-20.

Big things aren't necessarily expected out of either team, but they have a common link in the form of Thibodeau.

Before Thibs was hired to be the new head coach of the Knicks, he spent five seasons in charge of the Bulls from 2010-15. During that time, he went 255-139 and led the Bulls to the playoffs all five years.

Chicago was never able to get over the hump and reach the NBA Finals during that time, but the Bulls have come nowhere near that level of success since they parted ways with Thibodeau.

The 62-year-old has faced the Bulls since departing, as he spent parts of two seasons coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves, but a game against Chicago could take on more meaning now that Thibodeau is coaching another Eastern Conference team.

The Knicks and Bulls are in the same boat in many ways, as both teams have some young talent with the potential to be great, but they have been unable to put it all together and become playoff contenders.

Perhaps one of the teams will take that step next season, meaning Knicks vs. Bulls would be a good measuring stick for both squads.

           

Season Forecast

The Knicks' progress and overall success in 2020-21 will depend on whether their recent early draft picks go from promising youngsters to legitimate NBA players.

Barrett is front and center in that regard, as he went No. 3 overall in last year's draft and showed flashes as a rookie with averages of 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.

New York also needs at least one of its other recent picks to improve significantly. Knox would be an ideal candidate, especially after he took a big step back last season and averaged just 6.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per contest.

The Knicks' top incoming rookie is Toppin, who is fresh off a National College Player of the Year award last season at Dayton, and there is hope that he will provide a significant boost as well.

Forward Julius Randle was New York's best player last season with 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, and the Knicks will need more of the same out of him in 2020-21.

The top of the Eastern Conference is tough with the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Nets all essentially guaranteed to have better records than the Knicks barring something unforeseen.

That means there could be two playoff spots up for grabs between the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and a handful of other teams, and the Knicks' greatest hope is to be in that conversation.

Any improvement would be welcome in New York, but the Knicks are likely still at least a year away from being in serious contention for a playoff position.

           

Record Prediction: 26-46

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