By John Schmeelk
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As the Knicks embark on the final eight games of their season, only one thing matters: Seeding. With the Atlantic Division all but wrapped up, the Knicks need to finish ahead of the Indiana Pacers and earn the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The goal this year was to get to the Eastern Conference Finals and give the Heat a decent run for their money. They’ll need home-court advantage if they want to make that a likely result.
We’ve seen home-court advantage mean very little in past seasons, such as last year when the Thunder beat the Spurs despite not having home-court advantage and then losing to the Heat when they had four games at home in the NBA Finals. That being said, with two very evenly-matched teams in the Knicks and Pacers, home-court advantage could be the difference. The Pacers are a ridiculous 29-8 at home this year, compared to only 19-19 on the road. The Knicks are 27-10 at home compared to just 21-16 on the road. If there was any motivation for wanting a potential Game 7 at Madison Square Garden instead of in Indiana, that’s it.
Some people have argued that they would sacrifice home-court advantage in the second round if it meant avoiding the Celtics in the first round and playing the Hawks instead. For one, there’s no guarantee that the Hawks finish behind the Bulls for the sixth seed. Secondly, if the Knicks can’t beat the Celtics without Rajon Rondo, they aren’t going to beat the Pacers anyway. If the Knicks want to be an elite team they can’t be scared of an old and banged-up team like the Celtics, regardless of their playoff experience. It would be a good chance for the Knicks to exercise some demons. The play is to get home-court advantage in the second round and then take your chances with the Celtics in the first.
The Knicks’ 10-game winning streak has put them a half-game ahead of the Pacers in the standings and a full game ahead in the loss column. The Knicks have four games remaining at home and on the road, while the Pacers have four games remaining on their home court and three on the road. The Knicks play four teams with records under .500 (Friday night vs. Bucks, vs. Washington, at Cleveland and at Charlotte). The Knicks will need to win a minimum of three of these four games — and probably all four — if they want to finish ahead of the Pacers. The Cavaliers and Bobcats are both awful and should be easy victories. The Wizards are playing well recently, but with the game at the Garden, the Knicks should be able to beat them. The same goes for the game on Friday night against Milwaukee. As long as the Knicks take those games seriously and play hard, they should be able to sweep.
The Knicks’ four other games are against playoff teams (at Oklahoma City, at Chicago, vs. Indiana and vs. Atlanta in the final game of the season). The Knicks can live with a split in those four games as long as one of the two wins comes against the Pacers, which is by far the most important game on the schedule. It will go a long way in determining which team has home-court advantage in a potential second-round series. The games against the Pacers and Bulls are also important for another reason: The Knicks still need to prove that they can play physical basketball, keep their emotions in check and beat defense-first teams. The addition of Kenyon Martin should help a lot in those games, but the Knicks still need to prove that they can do it.
The Pacers’ final seven games feature four against teams over .500 (vs. Oklahoma City, vs. Brooklyn, at New York and at Boston) and three against teams under .500 (at Washington, vs. Cleveland, vs. Philly). The Pacers should be able to go 5-2 in those games, meaning that the Knicks will have to go 6-2 if they want to finish ahead of the Pacers in the standings. If the two finish tied and the Knicks beat the Pacers in their head-to-head matchup, the Knicks have the better conference record and will win the tiebreaker for seeding. If the Knicks lose to the Pacers, Indiana has the tiebreaker — which is what makes that game between the two teams so important.
If the Knicks win six of their last eight, home-court advantage through the second round is a high probability. The team must keep their foot on the gas pedal, keep playing good basketball and carry this momentum into the playoffs.
Whichever team gets the two seed will be the favorite to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals and play the Heat. The Knicks need it in the worst way, and they need to play with that type of urgency for the remainder of the season.
– I hope that the current Knicks team takes some time on Friday night and talks to the members of the 1973 championship team that will be in attendance at the Garden. While they won’t be able help the team with the small tactical issues that continue to plague the Knicks at times, they can help give them the bigger strategic picture of what it takes to win a championship. No one epitomized teamwork and sacrifice like that group, something that applies to every title team.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
Will the Knicks beat out the Pacers for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference? Let’s hear your predictions in the comments section below…