If the New York Knicks make the NBA playoffs this year, it will be a combination of a strong finish for the Knicks and a poor finish from the Atlanta Hawks, who currently hold the eighth and final playoff seed in the East. The Hawks have 20 games remaining; the Knicks have 16. Here is a look at each teams’ schedule and what will need to happen for the Knicks to make the playoffs.
A quick look into these two teams’ remaining games reveals a very similar strength of schedule. The Hawks play 13 of their 20 games against opponents with better records with their overall opponents’ winning percentage at 47 percent; and the Knicks play 10 of their final 16 games against opponents who have a better record with a winning percentage of 48 percent.
The Hawks have two wins in their past 16 games, one of which came against the Knicks, of course. Of their 14 losses in that span, 10 came on the road and 11 came against current playoff teams, so a lot of the Hawks’ poor play of late can be written off to their difficult schedule.
The Knicks have won five straight games, but each of those wins came against lottery-bound teams.
If the Hawks finish the season winning just seven games and dropping 13, they will finish the season 34-48. This is a very likely scenario, assuming the Hawks beat the seven teams with worse records than them and lose against those with better records. For the Knicks to finish at 34-48, they would need to play .500 ball the rest of the way — which shouldn’t be too difficult given their remaining strength of schedule.
However, a tiebreaker for the No. 8 seed would get tricky here. The two teams split their head-to-head matchup this season at two games a piece, which nullifies the first tiebreaker. The next applicable tiebreaker, according to NBA rules, is higher winning percentage in conference games. Currently the Hawks are 18-19 against the Eastern Conference; the Knicks are 18-23. The Knicks have 11 remaining games against the East; the Hawks have 15.
Having a better record against the East than the Hawks will be difficult for the Knicks as their final seven games of the season all come against Eastern Conference playoff teams, including the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, and the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets twice each. The Knicks need to avoid this.
They will have to finish the season with a better record than Atlanta, for a tiebreaker seems much more likely to go to the Hawks here. It’s very possible the Knicks can pull this off, especially considering the Hawks are in a landslide and the Knicks look like a completely different team of late. The Knicks’ win target should be 35; that is the number that will get them past Atlanta.