Goal One: Win.
Goal Two: Win by a lot.
That’s how the Knicks are approaching Tuesday night’s game against the Charlotte Hornets, which is the final night of group play in the NBA’s In-Season Tournament.
The Knicks enter the game at Madison Square Garden with a 2-1 record in group play and need to win to have any chance at being one of the eight teams to advance to the inaugural tournament’s knockout round. They also need a few other things to happen.
The Knicks can win Group B if they beat Charlotte and Miami beats Milwaukee, giving all three teams a 3-1 record. The Knicks would then need to win by enough against Charlotte to win the three-way tiebreaker, which is point differential. Heading into Tuesday night’s play, the Bucks are plus-39, the Knicks are plus-18 and the Heat are plus-11.
According to NBA.com, the Knicks could clinch one of the two wild cards if:
• The Knicks win and Miami, Cleveland, Boston and the Nets lose.
• A Knicks victory gives them second place in their group and they win the point-differential tiebreaker with any second-place team from other groups with a 3-1 record.
• Miami, Cleveland, Boston and the Nets lose and the Knicks win a tiebreaker over any second-place teams from another group.
If your head is spinning now, you aren’t alone. The players themselves can’t figure out all the scenarios. Still, Charlotte is the perfect team for the Knicks to be playing, given that the Hornets are 5-10 and will be without LaMelo Ball, who had been averaging 24.7 points before injuring his ankle on Sunday.
“First thing is you have to win,” RJ Barrett said. “You have to focus on doing that. Then, see what happens. As long as you win, you have a chance. So, try to get the win and if you are able to secure it early enough in the game, then of course try to get the number.”
Josh Hart said while scoreboard watching does commonly happen, he can’t imagine a scenario where the team would be doing the math while the game goes on and trying to hit a certain bench mark in order to advance to the next level.
“Sometimes you are looking to see if a team won or lost, but points? That’s a tough one,” Hart said. “You can’t let it dictate like that. I don’t think we really worry about the points. We just have to worry about winning.”
Should the Knicks advance to the knockout round and win that, they would be one of four teams headed to Las Vegas for the semifinals and final. Players on the championship team will receive $500,000 while the runners-up get $200,000, and the players on the losing semifinalists each get $100,000.
Barrett said he wouldn’t mind winning the whole thing. “If someone said you could go to Vegas and win 500K,'' said Barrett, "wouldn't you want to do it?”