The Knicks finished the regular season a year ago with a sparkling kick 16-4 to secure the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, marking his first post-season appearance since 2013.
Little about this season hasn’t been like that for Tom Thibodeau in his second season at the helm, but the Knicks probably need a similar closing round to make it to the 7-10 playing arc in East Mohsen.
With 23 games remaining after their return from an All-Star break that began with Friday’s visit to Miami, the Knicks are three games behind Charlotte and Atlanta in the ninth and tenth seed in the Eastern Playoff. The 12th-placed Knicks, who have lost seven of their last eight games before the break, are two games behind Washington No. 11.
With the Nets in eighth place leading six full games ahead of the Knicks – and soon planning to add injured Kevin Durant and newly acquired Ben Simmons three-time All-Stars – here’s a breakdown of the remaining teams to compete for the final two berths of play.
9. Hornets, 29-31
Charlotte appeared to have one of the most improved teams in the league at 28-22 with 50 games on January 28, but James Borrego’s side lost nine of their last 10 games before the break.
All-star goalkeeper Lamelo Paul leads the Hornets for the first time in points (20.0) and assists (7.5) in every game, and Miles Bridges is the number one contender for the league’s Most Valuable Player award, which was won last year by Knicks forward Julius Randle.
Front office Michael Jordan also picked valuable reserve man Montrezel Harrell on the trade deadline, but the Hornets were recently hit by the absence of ground-spacing winger Gordon Hayward (16.1 ppi) since February 7 due to a left ankle injury with no return schedule.
what’s left?: The Hornets will play 13 of the 22 remaining home games, with the opponents’ combined overall win percentage of .490, including two games against the Knicks.
10. Hawkes, 29-31
Atlanta also fell behind the team that knocked out the Knicks in five games in the first round of the playoffs, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to eventual NBA champion Milwaukee in six games.
MSG nemesis Trae Young is fifth in the league with scoring (27.8 points per gallon) and fourth in assists (9.3), and Clint Capella is still a monster on the boards (12.1 rebounds per game). But De’Andre Hunter missed two months in the first half with wrist surgery, and striker John Collins sustained a heel injury just before the break.
what’s left?: The Falcons have 11 home games and 13 road contests remaining, with the fifth lowest opponent winning by (.483) in the league, featuring a March 22 visit to the park.
11. The Witches, 27-31
Already without All-star guard and main scorer Bradley Beal this season due to left wrist surgery earlier this month, the Wizards pitched Harrell to Charlotte and former Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertrans to Dallas on the trade deadline.
The former Knicks Rhino Knicks Porzingis hasn’t played since arriving from the Mavericks or since Jan. 29 due to recurring knee pain, and the Wizards entered the first half by scoring 4-10 in their last 14 games before the break.
what’s left?: Washington also has the 11/13 house road that divides the rest of the way. But its solid position on the schedule is even more favorable than Atlanta at .472, the fourth-lowest record for an opponent in the league.
12. Knicks, 25 – 34
Could veteran goalkeeper Derek Rose’s eventual return from ankle surgery in December have the impact his mid-season acquisition had one year ago?
Thibodeau vowed that “everything is on the table” regarding his rotation after the break, but stubbornly refused to change his usual rotation or find more minutes for the likes of Obi Tobin, Quentin Grimes (until recently) or January’s Cam Reddish pickup (from The Hawks) on A brutal 3-13 slip since they were 22-21 and into a playoff on January 15th.
what’s left?: The Knicks have a nearly equal division on the home ground (11) and road games (12) remaining, although their records in the park (13-17) and away (12-17) are about the same. Their schedule is the most difficult of these four teams, and fourth hardest in the league at 0.529 – starting with their next four games against Miami, Philadelphia (twice) and Phoenix.