The Atlanta Hawks – winless in their last six games – have been as generous as possible in allowing the Knicks to remain alive in the race for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.
And the Knicks, who despite last week allowing a franchise-worst 51 points in a quarter en route to a blowout loss to the lowly Lakers, and getting run out of the building in Phoenix against the Suns, have cut the Hawks’ lead down to a single game.
The Knicks have looked so unbelievably bad on so many occasions this season, that it almost doesn’t feel right to be discussing their chances at making the playoffs. But as we entire the month of April, whether the team deserves to be in the mix or not, the postseason still remains an attainable goal.
With both the Hawks and Knicks playing on the same night for all four games over the next few days, much like a September pennant race in baseball, all eyes will be on the out-of-town scoreboard. The NBA Playoffs don’t officially begin until April 19, yet for the Knicks the elimination games are already underway.
On Monday, the Hawks play the Philadelphia 76ers, who just recently snapped a 26-game losing streak, while the Knicks finish up a five-game road trip in Utah against the Jazz. The Jazz have just two wins in their last 17 games – so neither the Hawks nor Knicks are likely to gain any ground on one another.
Just a couple nights later, the Knicks return home for the first time in 10 days. Awaiting the Knicks will be their crosstown rival, the Brooklyn Nets. There’s always a bit of tension in the air when the two teams play, and with playoff positioning on the line, this one should have some added flavor to it. The Knicks do have a tendency to randomly no-show certain games, however, as if a playoff race wasn’t enough to keep their intensity up, a rivalry game might actually get their complete attention.
Meanwhile, Atlanta will have their hands full that same night with the Chicago Bulls – a team they’ve lost to in all three meetings this year – giving the Knicks a possible opening to pull even with the Hawks.
The Cleveland Cavaliers sit just behind the Knicks in the standings, and though they still have a slight chance of sneaking into the playoffs themselves, the Cavs can do the Knicks a huge favor by knocking off the Hawks Friday night.
The Knicks are winless this season against the Washington Wizards, yet Friday’s game comes at an ideal time since the Wizards have been wildly inconsistent of late. It’s a big if, considering the Knicks’ lack of success against some of the better point guards in the league, but if the Knicks can stop John Wall, it suddenly becomes a very winnable game. Wall has done quite well against the Knicks in their previous two meetings, although they’ve done a good job of forcing him to turn the ball over.
Sunday is a likely loss for both the Hawks and Knicks as they each have road games against the two best teams in the East – the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, respectively – although stranger things have happened. Indiana is just 5-5 over their last 10 games, while the Heat have dropped games in recent weeks to teams that they should’ve handled with ease. The top overall seed in the conference is at play for Indiana and Miami, so winning does remain a priority for both teams. However, this time of year, teams have been known to pace themselves ahead of the grueling postseason and occasionally take their foot off the gas pedal – making the pair ripe for a loss.
Perhaps the most maddening thing about this year’s version of the Knicks is that a win over the Heat wouldn’t be any more shocking than a loss to the Jazz. And maybe the Knicks don’t deserve to still be in contention after their play for most of the season. But with eight games left to play and some quality opponents ahead on the schedule, if the Knicks are going to make the playoffs, they’re certainly going to have to earn it.