The NBA released the second half of its 2020-21 season schedule Wednesday, giving fans their first look at how the rest of this year will play out.
The Knicks currently sit at 15-17, good for the seventh seed but a game away from falling out of the postseason entirely or knocking on the door of home-court advantage. These last games will decide whether or not they make the playoffs for the first time since 2013 or have to suffer through another lottery-pick dice roll in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Without further ado, here is a breakdown of what to expect in the Knicks’ second half.
The big picture
New York kicks off its return from the All-Star break March 11 at the Milwaukee Bucks. The rest of its schedule features alternating home and road stands, with an even split between the two, over 34 remaining contests.
As for strength of schedule, the Knicks were in the bottom 10 in the league for the first half, meaning fans can expect tougher competition going forward. With any luck, teams that have clinched or been eliminated will offer up some easier wins in New York’s postseason chase come April and May.
Best of times, worst of times
Its longest home stand is currently six games scheduled April 18-28 against the New Orleans Pelicans, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls. Only two of those teams are real juggernauts, offering the Knicks a shot at strengthening their position in the standings against four Eastern Conference teams around their range.
This is immediately followed by their worst road trip of the second half, six straight West Coast games to close the season May 11. This could overlap with a tight seeding race for the Knicks, so not exactly when you’d want to face the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, Suns and Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers in that order. The first two games against Houston and Memphis are on a back-to-back, 1 of 5 the Knicks have to deal with in this second stint, with the rest coming every other night.
Assuming the teams above the Knicks in the standings (the Philadelphia 76ers, Nets, Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Raptors and Boston Celtics) stay there, their primary foes in securing a playoff berth are the Bulls, Hornets, Miami Heat, Atlanta, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards. With a 2-0 and 0-2 record against the Hawks and Heat, respectively, and only one game remaining versus each, those tiebreakers are settled. The Knicks are tied 1-1 with the Magic and Bulls with one faceoff against each to go, and they have two games to play against both the Hornets and Wizards whom they are 0-1 and 1-0 against, respectively.
When to visit
For fans looking to take in their first live Knicks game of the year, there are a number of good choices. Luka Doncic and former Knick Kristaps Porzingis visit April 2. LeBron James and his defending-champion Lakers come to town for their sole appearance at MSG April 12. Ditto for Zion Williamson and the Pelicans April 18 and Chris Paul/Devin Booker April 26.
The challenge ahead
Tom Thibodeau better have gotten the growth- and chemistry-building he wanted out of those first games. This final stretch will be a test of how real this Knicks team is and of Thibodeau’s rotational decisions thus far.
Like with the first half, New York will be playing every other night for the most part. This leaves little time for practice or rest for a roster that sticks to its ten-man rotation and plays its stars some of the highest minutes in the league. If someone goes down, there’s little time to experiment with their replacement minutes, the next man has to be ready to step up and contribute.
The road ahead isn’t easy, but the Knicks were not expected to so much as sniff .500 at this point. Yet they find themselves 34 games away from, their first postseason berth since 2013.
Let’s see if they can make it happen.