The New York Knicks believe they are on their way to Las Vegas. They didn’t realize they stopped in Milwaukee first.
In the initial moments after Tuesday’s 115-91 victory over the Charlotte Hornets, some Knicks players began their celebration. They traveled to Sin City as part of the NBA’s In-Season Tournament, a new feature starting this fall, one that has even the world’s most skilled accountants wondering how to keep score.
And apparently, even some players are off the hook.
The Knicks are not going to Vegas. At least, not yet. They must first play the Milwaukee Bucks this Tuesday in the quarterfinals of the In-Season Tournament, which they officially moved to after the victory against the Hornets. If they win there, they will advance to the semifinals and possibly the finals – both in their dream city.
“We say we’re going to Vegas, like you say you’re going to Disney World when you win the Super Bowl,” Immanuel Quickley said.
Quickley is proud to have tunnel vision about the NBA season. All the clichés head coach Tom Thibodeau talks about living in the moment, taking the schedule “one game at a time” – Quickley took them to the extreme. He said he didn’t keep track of his statistics. He was rarely aware of his cold or hot streaks. Earlier this week, he admitted that he did not know the Knicks’ win-loss record. And it’s not like he’s counting down the seconds until Tuesday, the final night of the In-Season Tournament’s group stage play.
He didn’t realize until Tuesday that Charlotte’s game was a tournament game. And once they won, he was one of the few convinced it meant an automatic flight to Vegas.
“Nobody’s been through it so everyone’s on the edge,” Quickley said. “It’s different than just playing a straight 82-game season. So it’s pretty cool. “
The confusion isn’t just due to the novelty, either. Even Pythagoras had to triple-check his math on who would move on to what the NBA calls the “knockout round” and who wouldn’t.
The Knicks don’t just have to beat the Hornets to get into the quarterfinals; they must destroy them. Although New York won by only 11 points, just 11 points, it might not be enough because the Boston Celtics could destroy the Chicago Bulls by 35 (and they almost won), which would hurt the Knicks’ chances. They are also worried about the results of the Bucks against the Miami Heat. Then they had to calculate the square root of pi and divide by the square root of Charles Oakley’s rebounds each game — and they had to do it all while patting their head with one hand and rubbing their stomach with the other.
Maybe that’s why the person doing the analysis should be the one to break the bad news to the team.
As the Knicks celebrated a free trip to Vegas and a chance to win $500,000 while they were there, Nick Restifo, a member of their analytics team, gave the truth. They must reign supreme in the land of beer and brats before conquering the blackjack tables.
Above the television, the focus of all the cubbies in the locker room of the Knicks, is another NBA game: the Bucks and Heat are coming down to the wire in just a few minutes. This will determine the fate of the Knicks.
Now, it’s settled. The Knicks are a wild card, an Eastern Conference team that finishes second in their group and advances to the quarterfinals, where they will face the winners of Groups A, B and C.
They play in Milwaukee on Tuesday. The winner of that game will face the winner of the other quarterfinal game in the East: The Indiana Pacers vs. the Celtics.
The semifinal is scheduled for December 7. The championship game is scheduled for December 9.
Both are in Vegas. And Quickley wasn’t the only one who might be chanting the city’s name after the game, either.
Julius Randle – shortly after one of his best performances of the season, scoring 25 points, 20 rebounds and five assists against Charlotte – spoke happily about the In-Season Tournament. He confirmed that he is a fan of the format. It doesn’t take a single sentence to sum up why.
“One chance to go to Vegas,” he said.
But is it a chance to go to Vegas or a chance to win $500,000 in Vegas?
“One chance to go to Vegas,” Randle said before hesitating, thinking about the answer and quickly confirming he had it right. “Yeah, a chance to go to Vegas.”
As RJ Barrett said earlier this week, “If someone said you could go to Vegas and win $500K, would you want to do that?”
The Knicks’ bank accounts grow everywhere.
The players will receive $50,000 each if their team loses in the quarterfinals. If they lose in the semis, the bonus is $100,000. If they lose in the championship game, they will earn $200,000 each. And if they win the whole thing, that’s a cool half a million moved into their pockets.
Josh Hart says he’ll buy himself a new watch if the Knicks get their mega bonuses, the same thought any old chum should get if he finds $500,000 in an old one jacket. But it is not easy. Even the most ardent followers of the In-Season Tournament have to admit that there have been failures to advance as far as the Knicks have.
All of these games, except the final, count toward the regular-season standings. And since the Knicks are just one of eight teams left, their schedule is even tougher. They have one more game today against the Bucks, one of the best teams in the league that they will play five times this season.
Teams that didn’t make the tournament have regular season games scheduled next week. And if the Knicks had narrowly beaten Charlotte on Tuesday instead of a blowout, giving them one more tally in the win column, their point difference (which was the tiebreaker that helped them advance) would have been small enough to keep them out of the knockout round, also giving them a chance to play a bad team next week.
It’s not just about more Bucks play, either. The In-Season Tournament brings the stresses of playoff scheduling into December basketball … and multiplies it by 10.
The Knicks have to pack for six days when they go to Milwaukee — in case they keep winning. And the run-up to the final, which is a week from Saturday, could tire them out.
That sends them to Milwaukee on Dec. 5, Vegas on Dec. 7 and 9, back home for a game on Dec. 11 and then back west for a four-game road trip that starts in Utah on Dec. 13.
Of course, if someone offered you $500,000 just to take an extra cross-country flight, you might accept — especially if you got a free trip to Vegas.
(Julius Randle Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images)