With the New York Knicks already clinching the Atlantic division title, they are already guaranteed a top four seed in the Eastern conference for the playoffs. The worst they can finish is 3rd this year, which would guarantee them home-court advantage in just the first round.
Currently, the Knicks lead the Indiana Pacers for the No. 2 seed by two and a half games, and they will have a crucial game against them at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, which will probably decide that problem of seeding between the two squads.
The Knicks last five games will be: at Chicago tonight and at Cleveland tomorrow, home against the Pacers on Sunday, at Charlotte on Monday, and back at MSG against the Hawks on Wednesday. The Pacers wrap up their season home against Brooklyn on Friday, sunday at MSG, at Boston on Tuesday and Wednesday in Philadelphia. So both teams have some games against playoff teams.
In order to position themselves for an easier trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Knicks need to wrap up the No. 2 seed, because they will likely have to beat the Pacers to get there, and they ought to have home-court advantage against them. Also, they can set themselves up with a weaker first round opponent.
The Pacers currently have the best home record in the East, just a game ahead of your New York Knicks. On the road, however, Indiana is currently a game under .500, whereas the Knicks have the 2nd best road record in the East behind Miami.
This isn’t even just coincidence. Indiana clearly plays much better at their home at Bankers Life Fieldhouse than anywhere else, outscoring their opponents by 7.2 points per game in Indianapolis. Away, that differential goes down to +1.9, mostly because they don’t score as much.
The Knicks, on the other hand, are a bit more balanced. Although not as efficient defensively as the tough Pacers are, their offense led by Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith is much more potent than the likes of Paul George and George Hill.
Clearly, with New York being a better road team than Indiana, but the Pacers being a very tough team at home, it is preferable to get the No. 2 seed with the possibility of a Game 7 to get to the ECF. Obviously, the Knicks would much rather have that situation be at Madison Square Garden than Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Which is why Sunday’s game is pretty important. The Knicks knocked off the Pacers at the Garden in November but the Pacers ran the New York out of the building twice at their house in Indy. A win by the Pacers would give them the season series win and the tie-breaker. A win by New York will all but seal the deal for them.
Another benefit of getting the No. 2 seed is the better odds of winning in the 1st round. Currently, the Knicks are on pace to meet the Boston Celtics in Round One. The Pacers are either going to face off against the Atlanta Hawks or their arch-nemeses the Chicago Bulls.
The Knicks are a better matchup against Boston than Chicago, as the Bulls, without Derrick Rose, have been able to bully the Knicks and on their own home-turf (twice). In an ugly December 22nd loss at MSG, both teams lost their cool as the officials ejected Anthony, Tyson Chandler, coach Mike Woodson and the Bulls’ Joakim Noah.
Chicago 3-0 against New York going for the sweep tonight at the United Center, so the Knicks clearly want nothing to do with them, preferring the Bulls play either Brooklyn or Indiana.
On the other hand, New York has been more than able to take care of the aging Celtics, who are likely not going to move up or down in seeding at the end of the regular season three games ahead of Milwaukee and two and a half games
New York is clearly hell bent on getting as far in the playoffs as possible, with the franchise’s and city’s first basketball title in 40 years on their minds. In order to get there, the best case scenario would be to get the No. 2 seed to guarantee them home-court advantage through the first two rounds.