At the beginning of the NBA season, Kristaps Porzingis burst onto the scene and stole the show in his first audition as the Knicks’ leading man. As this amazing performance starring Porzingis as Batman and Tim Hardaway Jr. as Robin continued to unfold, the Big Apple’s Gotham City was an exciting place to be as the team soared to new and unexpected heights. The postseason quickly became in-focus under a brand new lens.
Despite serving as one of the league’s early season surprises, the Knicks have come back to earth a bit following injuries to both Porzingis and Hardaway Jr. While the latter remains out, Porzingis is still in the process of getting back into the swing of things following his own return to the court.
There are always to twists and turns, as well as different hurdles to leap over, over the course of a given campaign. That much is to be expected. Nevertheless, the upcoming one will prove to be quite the test for this promising, yet unproven, Knickerbocker squad. Though New York is still standing tall (the team’s record is a game above .500) well over two months into the season, many have had their reservations as an imposing challenge lies ahead.
The Knicks will play 16 of their next 20 games on the road. Such a stretch has been highly anticipated amongst those waiting for this new-look group to stumble. They’ve been terrific at home, boasting a 17-16 record overall despite a 2-10 mark on the road. As Game of Thrones fans would say, Winter is Coming and the new year will greet New York with blistery cold weather and an even bleaker outlook on what’s to come.
What can fans expect? What will the Knicks need to do to stay afloat? What type of outcome can be most expected? Let’s dive deeper into the forthcoming challenge.
As mentioned, 16 of the next 20 contests will be on the road. Such a journey begins on Wednesday night in Chicago. The Knicks will also play the Bulls once at home during this stretch and they will certainly have added motivation to rack up victories in both games. As part of the Carmelo Anthony trade, the Knicks own Chicago’s 2018 second round draft choice. Given that the Bulls are in the midst of their own respective rebuild, the pick will likely be a favorable one and New York should be able to easily win each contest.
While the Bulls shouldn’t pose much of a challenge, the rest of the upcoming schedule will likely give the Knicks more trouble. New York will match up against teams with records above .500 eleven times. Though at 15-20, the Jazz are not included in that bunch, the opponent owns a much more favorable 12-6 record at home. Playing in Utah and heading into battle against rookie stud Donovan Mitchell (who may be out for blood after New York passed on him for Frank Ntilikina) could be difficult for Porzingis and Co.
This eventful trip also features four sets of back-to-backs, so it’s safe to say New York will be rather preoccupied and constantly on the go over the next five weeks or so. There’s no rest for the weary. After examining the schedule, evaluating opponents, and recognizing the varied matchups, it wouldn’t be surprising for the Knicks to tally a record of 8-12 over this stretch. This may not be what the team wants to hear. They most certainly have higher hopes, but such a record appears much more realistic than predicting a rosier finish. Such a mark could feature two wins each against the Bulls and Nets, and additional victories against the Suns, Grizzlies, Lakers, and Mavericks on the road. Despite coming in as the visitor, the aforementioned four games should be very attainable games for the Knicks to win, much like the home/away splits with Chicago and Brooklyn should be as well.
Though New York could very well take care of the above opponents, they will be left vulnerable, and should stand to lose, games against the Bucks, Celtics, Nuggets, Warriors, Jazz, Timberwolves, Heat, Wizards, and two each to the Spurs and Pelicans. Obviously there are many variables to be considered here and the Knicks could very well lose games they should win, or end up sneaking away with a victory when they’re expected to fall. Such a suggested 8-12 mark would leave the Knicks with a 25-28 record overall by the time the next twenty games pass and the team can benefit from playing a few more games at home going forward.
Despite being a game over .500, the Knicks are currently half a game outside the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed and would fail to make the playoffs if the season concluded at this very moment. Competition in the East is becoming more fierce with younger teams getting hungry and not remaining satisfied with tanking opportunities. Needless to say, the Knicks have been kept on their toes thus far and should they head into the heart of February with a record three games under .500, they’ll have their work cut out for them. Still, they’ll have plenty of time to right the ship and capitalize on momentum. At the very least, the biggest test will be behind them.
But before the Knicks can venture off along greener pastures, they’ll need to propel head first into the eye of the storm. The test begins on Wednesday night in Chicago.