If the knock-kneed Knicks lose Sunday afternoon to the Clippers in Los Angeles, Nets will have an opportunity to tie for the Atlantic Division lead with a win Sunday night vs. the Hawks. Winning the division is not just about municipal bragging rights. It guarantees a team a top four seed and homecourt advantage. The Celtics, of course, are lurking just behind the Nets and Knicks, but for the Nets to be in first this late in the season would be real accomplishment after the last five years, the worst stretch in franchise history.
The Nets last won the division in 2005-06, the Knicks in 1993-1994, when they went to the Finals. The Celtics have won it the last five years. The Knicks are in the midst of the toughest part of their schedule and the trend lines are going in the Nets favor. Since the Knicks blew out the Nets at Madison Square Garden on December 19, the New Yorkers are 19-19, the Brooklynites 25-15. If they want to find solace in their misery, the Nets schedule will get tougher, as Howard Beck writes Saturday.
The Knicks play nine of their remaining 19 games at the Garden. The Nets are home for only six of their final 17 games.
Still, the schedule tilts slightly in the Nets’ favor over the final four weeks, based on the strength of their opponents.
Six of the Nets’ final 17 games are against likely playoff teams: Atlanta, the Clippers, Denver, Chicago, Boston and Indiana. The Knicks have 11 likely playoff teams left, including games in Oklahoma City and Miami, where the home teams are a combined 60-7. The other playoff teams left on the Knicks’ schedule are the Clippers, Boston (twice), Indiana, Chicago, Memphis, Atlanta (twice) and Milwaukee.
Of course, as of now, the Nets are healthy, with Joe Johnson saying he'll be back after nearly a week off and the rest of the team free of anything but nagging injuries. On the Knicks side of the the ledger, Amare Stoudemire and Rasheed Wallace appear out for the season, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler are questionable for Saturday's game in L.A. and some of other, older Knicks looking tired.
For now, it's a numbers game.