After a deflating 98-86 loss in Chicago last night against the Bulls, the Knicks travel to Milwaukee to play the Bucks in a face-off of the two teams fighting for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Entering tonight, the Knicks (29-28) have a slim one game lead over the Bucks (28-29) with each team having only nine games remaining on their regular season schedules. It is also worth noting that the Philadelphia 76ers (30-27) are one clear of the Knicks and two clear of the Bucks.
So, does this mean that tonight’s match-up in Milwaukee is a must-win for the Knicks? Tyson Chandler thinks so. But, is it really?
When looking over the schedule, of the final nine games remaining for the Knicks, there are four games left the Knicks should win (vs. Washington, at New Jersey, at, Cleveland and at Charlotte), along with four games remaining against playoff teams (Heat, Celtics, Hawks, Clippers), then tonight’s showdown. Realistically, the Knicks may not do better than going 5-4 in this stretch, maybe 6-3 if they can scratch one out against a tougher opponent.
However, the schedule isn’t too kind to the Bucks either. The Bucks have won six of their last eight, but end the season with two games against the Pacers, a meeting with the 76ers and the season-finale against the Celtics. Whatever the Knicks do to end the season, the Bucks have to do at least one better. So, if the Knicks go 5-4, the Bucks must go 6-3, and so on and so on.
The reason why tonight’s game is so critical: tiebreakers. Buckle up.
Right now, the Bucks own the playoff tie-breaker over the Knicks thanks to their 2-1 head-to-head record. However, should the Knicks win tonight, that would make the tie-breaker the team’s record against Eastern Conference opponents. Right now, both teams hold a 22-18 mark against Eastern Conference teams, with eight games remaining against conference opponents, including tonight’s game. The next tiebreak would be record against playoff teams, which gets dicier.
In order for the Knicks to firmly secure their spot, tonight has to be viewed as a must-win game. While I’m less worried about these two teams being tied for the final playoff spot with eight games remaining, I am terrified of what tonight means in terms of tiebreakers. The Knicks don’t want to be in a position where if they match the Bucks’ record from now until the season is over, they still won’t make it to postseason play. They need this win to regain control of their own destiny. Just ask Giants and Cowboys fans exactly how important it is to be able to control your own destiny.
Is the season over if the Knicks lose tonight in Milwaukee? Absolutely not. Anything could happen in the final eight games for better or for worse.
But, is tonight’s game the most important game the Knicks have played to date this season? Without question.