The Atlanta Hawks delivered the knockout blow to the New York Knicks for the second straight year. Albeit this season, it wasn’t a direct hit. Nonetheless, it’s more painful than last season’s first-round exit.
The Hawks officially eliminated the Knicks, along with Washington Wizards, after punching the last play-in berth with a 131-107 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday night.
The Knicks made it a little interesting after the All-Star break when they rattled off nine wins over a 13-game stretch until Wednesday’s heartbreaking loss to the Charlotte Hornets became the harbinger of doom.
So what now? What’s next for the Knicks?
Despite failing to write and direct a worthy sequel to their feel-good playoff run last season, New York coach Tom Thibodeau is pleased with the team’s progress lately.
“Just keep concentrating on what we’re doing. Get better. You’re not eliminated until you get eliminated,” Thibodeau said Wednesday after their 125-114 loss to the Hornets.
Now that the inevitable has arrived, it’s time to look forward to the next season.
“And then when you are [eliminated], then you assess what do you want to get done,” Thibodeau said.
So what do the Knicks want to accomplish in their final five games?
Will Thibodeau sit out the veterans and give the keys to the kids?
“I don’t think so. I think in life, you have to do things the right way. You have to keep going after it,” said Fournier when asked Wednesday if there will be changes forthcoming. “It doesn’t change how we’re going to approach games or practices or anything really.”
“I’m sure Thibs is going to tell you the same thing. He’s a great leader in that approach. You have to earn everything. And that’s the way it should be. It’s obviously disappointing to maybe not to have a successful season and stuff, but we’re still competitors, and we still want to make the fans proud and represent the city.”
But with five games left to play, sitting out the veterans to give the kids more experience in a game that matters to three of their next opponents will be valuable. It won’t automatically result in a loss, but even if they do, they’re going to hit two birds with one stone — develop the kids and tank for the NBA Draft Lottery.
Three of the Knicks’ remaining games are against teams above them, starting Saturday against Cleveland. But the Cavaliers will be without their top rookie Evan Mobley. Then they will have also-ran teams Orlando Magic and the Wizards sandwiching a home against crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets, who are fighting to get out of the play-in tournament. They will wind up their schedule against the Toronto Raptors, trying to avoid a play-in scenario.
The Magic and Wizards are no pushovers either. Remember when the Magic upset the Knicks twice earlier this season? And the Knicks barely beat the Bradley Beal-less Wizards last month.
There are no gimmes in their remaining games.
Currently, the Knicks have a 1.5 percent chance of landing the top overall pick and a 7.1 percent chance of sneaking inside the top four. Their lottery odds could go as high as 5.3 percent (no. 1 pick) and 23.5 percent (top-4 selection) if they get stuck at 34 wins and hope the Los Angeles Lakers (31-45), New Orleans Pelicans (31-45), San Antonio Spurs (33-43) and the Wizards (33-43) get past them in the standings.
The Knicks have terrible lotto luck, but we never know.
The Pelicans the Zion Williamson lottery, jumping from seventh. The Raptors sneaked in the top four from the seventh spot last draft. The Hornets jumped from near the end of the lottery to no. 3 to grab LaMelo Ball.
The Knicks could be due and finally catch a break. Or even if they don’t, they could use a higher draft pick than 12th to package in a Draft Day trade. And it wouldn’t hurt to give the kids bigger minutes to either prepare them for a more prominent role down the road or boost their trade stocks.
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