I can’t believe we are actually talking about NBA playoffs and the New York Knicks in the same sentence. While most of us Knick fans are delighted that the team has qualified for the playoffs, it doesn’t mean we can’t get a little greedy. The Knicks are currently the 4th seed in the East, and 3 games ahead of the 7th seeded Boston Celtics after their huge Mother’s Day win versus the Clippers in Los Angeles.
While New York’s chances of slipping to the 7th seed look less likely now, thus not having to participate in the dreaded play-in tournament as the 7th seed. Being the 6th seed is not much better, because Brooklyn or Milwaukee would be difficult match-ups. So it’s vital for the Knicks to not drop any lower than the 5th seed.
With that said, let’s review which of the possible 1st round match-ups the Knicks would prefer. If New York finishes in the top 5 they will likely play either Atlanta, Miami or Boston.
For me this is the most favorable match-up for the Knicks. The Hawks are a great offensive team, ranked 8th per 100 possessions. They also have lots of 3 point shooters that can make the Knicks pay if left wide open. However, the Hawks are not a good defensive team, they are ranked 20th, per 100 possessions.
As we know defense wins in the playoffs, so that favors the Knicks who are ranked 4th best defense per 100 possessions. The other factor is that the refs tend to allow more physical play in the playoffs. That doesn’t favor Atlanta’s star player, Trae Young. He is known for bating the refs into calling cheap foul calls by leaning into defenders when he shoots.
The one great thing about this Knick team is that they are built for the playoffs. I can definitely see Julius Randle and RJ Barrett imposing themselves physically on the Hawks. If the Knicks play the Hawks I could see them beating them in 6 games.
Boston Celtics – updated !!
The Knicks have reason to feel good about facing the Celtics in the playoffs, but can’t be overconfident. When I started writing this article Boston had 2 of the 3 best players on the court. But now that its been announced that Jaylen Brown is out for the rest of the season, everything changes. During a playoff series teams have time to game plan for their opponents, so it is harder to win on scheme. If both teams are close in talent, usually the one with the better top-end talent prevails.
The other factor is playoff experience, the young Celtics are battle tested. Jayson Tatum played in the Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron James and the Cavs in 2018 which was his rookie season. The young star has played in the playoffs every season since then, this will be Tatum’s 4th trip to the playoffs.
Conversely, this will be the first time the Knicks’ two best players: Julius Randle and RJ Barrett experience the playoffs. This is where the Knicks will need to rely on seasoned vets, and Thibs’ guys Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson to help support New York’s young stars.
This series would come down to defense and who’s supporting cast will be able to make enough plays to put their stars in position to close out games. Boston will have a healthy Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, while the Knicks will be reliant on Derrick Rose and Alec Burks. While New York has the physical advantage, Boston has the shot creation advantage as Jayson Tatum can create his own shot at will. I now see this series going 6 games, but closely fought with the advantage to the Knicks. Boston couldn’t match Miami’s physical play in last year’s playoffs and haven’t done much to address the issue this season. Now they will have less fire power on offseason as they lose Jaylen Brown and his 24.7 ppg.
Speaking of the Miami Heat. They are the last team we would want to see the Knicks face in the 1st round. It’s not that I don’t think they can beat them, it’s just that it will take everything the Knicks have to do it. If the Knicks got past the Heat they would not have much left for their 2nd round opponent. That is because the Heat are the one team that can match the Knicks’ physical intensity.
The one area the Knicks have struggled in since Mitchell Robinson’s season ending injury is offensive rebounding. Of the three potential 1st round opponents, the Heat is the only one that has an all-star center. Bam Adebayo is a match-up nightmare for the Knicks. While Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson have done an admiral job at the center position. The Knicks are going to rack up fouls protecting the paint against Bam and Jimmy Butler.
The one advantage the Knicks have that no one is talking about is team continuity. The Heat have been one the teams most impacted by the Covid-19 protocols. They have had a hard time maintaining a consistent rotation The other thing is that the Victor Oladipo trade has blown up in their faces. At the time it looked like the Heat had fleeced the Rockets. But that was based on the assumption that Oladipo would remained healthy.
The Heat’s depth is thin as a result. They gave up two nice veteran rotation players in Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley in the trade. As a result they have been forced to play Kendrick Nunn and Dwayne Dedmon for minutes that they would prefer to. Remember, the Heat were one of the teams most affected by the short offseason since they played in the NBA Finals. The were and tear of the season coupled with the loss of depth could come back to haunt them.
If the Knicks were to play the Heat, I would expect it to go 7 games. If the regular season games had the intensity of the 1990’s Heat-Knicks rivalry. Imagine how intense a playoff series would be. This is the one series were I would not feel great about the Knicks’ chances in a game 7.
But regardless, I can’t wait for the playoffs to start. I am so proud to call this squad my team. No matter what happens, this season has been a success and the playoffs are just the icing on the cake.