The Knicks are in a wide open race to lose as many games as they can before the clock strikes midnight. How does their schedule look in relation to their competition?
Ah, the sweet, sweet smell of losses in the morning. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s painful, disheartening, and masochistic, but it also makes you feel slimy for rooting against your own team at times. Such has been the life of a Knicks fan in March for the past few seasons.
Since the moment that Kristaps Porzingis went down, the Knicks have been in full blown tank mode. It’s not a secret; fans have been rooting for losses, players have been asked questions about it, and the defeats have been piling up. With the Knicks winning consecutive games for the first time in almost two months, the chances for New York to drop down the standings are quickly dwindling, but as long as there is a remote possibility, we can examine the teams around them with a closer lens to see if dropping is at all realistic.
For the purpose of this exercise, I’ll be including the teams that could possibly end up better than the Knicks, even if those chances are relatively slim. With all teams currently in playoff position obviously excluded, we’ll also be leaving out Detroit, Charlotte, Denver, and both Los Angeles teams, because they are too good. Congrats guys!
I’ll also be skipping the likes of Phoenix, Memphis, Atlanta, and Orlando, because they are too bad. Even more congrats to you guys! Deandre Ayton would look good in a Hawks uniform doing what both he and Atlanta does best, losing in the first round!*
*(Only read this if your name is Deandre Ayton) Deandre, buddy, you know it was just a joke! I love your game, but if we take ourselves too seriously through the tank, we’ll drive ourselves crazy! Besides, you’d be a better fit in New York anyways. You know, a place that REALLY understands what it means to lose.
Dallas Mavericks (22–48)
Remaining Strength of Schedule: .473, 23rd in the NBA
FiveThirtyEight Win Projection: 26–56
Dennis Smith Jr. was the Mavs’ prize last year, and he’s been passable during his rookie campaign for Dallas. That being said, he’s set to miss a few games, and considering how poor Dallas lineups have been with him on the floor, that may end up being a good thing for the Knicks. The Mavs have been in the lottery for back-to-back seasons since the 2000 season, so this is uncharted territory for them. Their lottery pick following the 1998–99 season became, of course, one Mr. Dirk Nowitzki, so these things just tend to work out for some franchises.
As far as the rest of this season goes, Dallas has a few tough Western Conference opponents and two Eastern Conference playoff teams but also features some bottom-dwellers in Orlando, Phoenix, and Sacramento. FiveThirtyEight has the Mavericks as favorites in exactly two of their remaining 12 games.
Dallas has lost two winnable games since beating the Knicks last Tuesday, falling in overtime to the Raptors and blowing a fourth quarter lead to the Nets. Fairly selfish of them if you ask me. With the easiest remaining schedule of this bunch of teams, Dallas’ ability to pick up wins over the likes of Orlando and Sacramento on the road will likely be the deciding factor in their position. They defeated the Magic in January, but have lost two of three to the Kings.
The matchups against the Pelicans, Jazz, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Blazers, and Sixers should all be losses. The Knicks will need to cross their fingers and hope Dallas can beat the likes of the Kings, Lakers, Magic, Pistons, and Suns if they hope to sniff 25 wins. Although, depending on their standing at the time, it would likely behoove the Knicks to have the Kings win games since they’re currently closer. All that being said, this Mavs team looks like it will not be able to muster together enough wins to approach New York.
Projected Record: 26–56
Draft Thought: With the Mavs set at point guard for the foreseeable future, which rules out the likes of Trae Young and Collin Sexton, I’d bet that they look to target a wing or a big. Michael Porter Jr. has been tied to the Mavs often, and if he’s around when they select, he makes a lot of sense.
Brooklyn Nets (23–48)
Remaining Strength of Schedule: .498, 15th in the NBA
FiveThirtyEight Projection: 27–55
The Nets, like their New York brethren, just won two games in a row for the first time in almost two months. BROOOOKLYN!
This Brooklyn pick will be heading to Cleveland via the Kyrie Irving trade, but that doesn’t mean that their record isn’t important to the big picture. The Nets have a schedule chock full of Eastern Conference foes, meaning that travel fatigue shouldn’t be an issue. Aside from the road contests in Toronto and Boston, this slate for the Nets presents some winnable games. They’ve topped all of the other foes on the horizon at least once this season, so it’s not unreasonable for them to steal a contest or two from unsuspecting competition. We saw what the Knicks did to the Hornets. Orlando is awful. Detroit is all but checked out.
If nothing else sticks out here, the home and home with Chicago are the games to circle. The Bulls continue to rack up injuries to the few players on the team that can contribute to winning basketball, so the chances that they pass the Knicks look worse and worse each time LaVine or Markkanen is ruled out. The Nets likely represent a team that has a better opportunity to pass the Knicks, but the odds are still stacked against them. The road-heavy schedule doesn’t help. Still, if Brooklyn can manage to get to 26 wins before that Saturday game in Chicago, they could have a shot at catching New York.
Projected Record: 27–55
Draft Thought: Trae Young or Collin Sexton would like good in the wine and gold, with or without LeBron in the fold.
Sacramento Kings (23–49)
Remaining Strength of Schedule: .496, 16th in the NBA
FiveThirtyEight Projection: 26–56
The lottery and the Sacramento Kings just make so much sense together. They are that couple that all of your friend group puts on a pedestal and holds to ridiculously high standards; “those two will never break up!” For the 12th consecutive season, the Kings will be at the lottery, looking for some luck to hop into the top three. Here are their draft picks during those 12 fateful years:
It’s really hard to draft in the lottery for that many season in a row without locking down an above average NBA player that sticks with your franchise. Cousins, Thomas, and Whiteside have been better outside of California, while someone like Tyreke Evans precipitously fell off before having a bit of a renaissance this year. Yeesh.
With their remaining strength of schedule ranking 16th in the league, it would initially appear that the Kings will struggle to string together wins. However, that number is higher because they match up against Houston, Golden State, and Boston. Games against Phoenix, Memphis, Atlanta, and Dallas represent clear opportunities to rack up a couple W’s. The Kings have come on strong as of late, notching wins against the (admittedly depleted) Warriors and Heat in the past week. With a six-game homestand on the horizon, Sactown could sneak out a few wins and finish the season strong. I think they have a shot at winning two games during this homestand, and it feels safe to say they’ll win at least one of the Lakers/Suns/Grizzlies/Spurs pocket on the road. That would give them 26 wins, with the chance to win a couple more looming. Alas, it still will probably not be enough to matter for the Knicks.
Projected Record: 27–55
Draft Thought: If the Knicks can’t get lucky in the lottery, can we let the Kings knock one out of the park for once? Or do we enjoy having just one NBA franchise that’s a smidgen worse than the Knicks? Luka Doncic bringing the Kings back to relevance sounds fun.
Chicago Bulls (24–46)
Remaining Strength of Schedule: .491, 20th in the NBA
FiveThirtyEight Projection: 28–54
The Knicks have been in direct conflict with the tanking Bulls, and despite winning last night, they are still within striking distance. However, if the Bulls continue to leave most of their starting lineup home, they won’t be winning many games anytime soon. With Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn on the mend with a variety of ailments, the Bulls are just atrocious. I mean, look at this lineup they threw out against the Knicks last night:
Your starters: pic.twitter.com/0VCGcftF2C
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 19, 2018
Truly, truly great tanking job. Color me impressed. Adam Silver has already reached out to the Bulls, issuing a “stern warning” about not playing their best guys. The three aforementioned starters have been diagnosed with what seem to be legitimate injuries, so whether or not the NBA can do anything about that remains to be seen.
As far as their remaining schedule is concerned, the Bulls have six home and six road games against varying levels of competition. The two games against the Nets are huge. If the two teams go into that game relatively even in the standings, Knicks fans should be rooting for one of the two to sweep the series. The Nets have the better chance here. Chicago will be in no rush to bring back the trio of decent players still logging minutes on this team. Cam Payne and company have a chance to back into two wins because of their easy schedule, but I wouldn’t even feel supremely confident in that.
Projected Record: 26–56
Draft Thought: The Bulls could use a wing to pair with Markkanen, LaVine, and Dunn. Mikal Bridges could be a target for them here, or if Wendell Carter Jr. happens to drop a bit, Chicago could snatch him up. The Knicks also own the Bulls’ second-round pick this year, so there’s a bit of a silver lining here if the Bulls fail to win even two more games this season.
New York Knicks (26–45)
Remaining Strength of Schedule: .512, 12th in the NBA
FiveThirtyEight Projection: 30–52
The équipe de jour. At the end of this tankapalooza lies the team we all came for, the New York Knickerbockers. FiveThirtyEight’s projection for the Knicks to win four more games over their next 11 seems absolutely bonkers considering that they are 3–17 over their last 20 games. They do have admittedly winnable games against the likes of Orlando and Detroit at home, but besides that, could we actually see them beating any of these teams? Their peak for wins seems like 29 if we throw them one more win over Miami, Milwaukee, or Minnesota at home, which still seems incredibly unlikely to happen.
Ultimately, the odds of the Knicks budging from the ninth slot took a serious hit with their wins over Charlotte and Chicago. Those are wins that will perk up the spirit of the team and likely help some of the young players play with a renewed sense of purpose, and having a discussion on the healthiness of tanking is one that we can have another time. Twenty-eight wins is likely the magic number; if the Knicks hit 28, they’ll either be flipping in a tie for ninth place or they’ll be alone in ninth. If they fail to win another game this season or manage to win just one, the game could be different. I wouldn’t get my hopes up.
Projected Record: 28–54
Draft Thoughts: For now, the Knicks are likely looking at the ninth pick, which should give them plenty of options. Mikal Bridges is my favorite of the group, but he may end up being selected before the Knicks are on the clock if his Villanova Wildcats roll through the tournament.