The NBA officially announced that Game 1 of the first-round series between the Hawks and Knicks will begin on Sunday. This is a matchup between two teams that weren’t supposed to be here. The Hawks haven’t been to the postseason since 2017, and the Knicks haven’t made the playoffs since 2013. Nobody had both of these teams finishing in the top five of a competitive Eastern Conference, but we’re here, and ESPN’s NBA reporters didn’t hide who they believe will be advancing in this matchup of underdog stories.
Earlier today, ESPN had 16 of their NBA analysts provide their predictions for each series. In the one we care about, a remarkable 14(!) picked the Knicks to advance over the Hawks.
I’m sorry, but in a series that pits two teams that finished with the exact same record that have both been scorching hot to end the season, there’s just no way that should happen. This is the definition of media bias, and hopefully, it doesn’t linger into the officiating. There’s no questioning who the media and the league want to advance; it’s simply better for business the longer the Knicks are in the playoffs.
Both of these teams have minimal postseason experience, but if there’s an edge to be had there, it belongs to the Hawks, who at least have a few guys that have participated in playoff basketball. You could make the argument that the Knicks have the best player and a better coach, but both of those advantages are marginal at best. Young is just as impactful as Randle, especially with how he has played down the stretch, and McMillan has given the Hawks an entirely different identity. The Hawks are 27-11 under his guidance and own the second-best record in the NBA since the start of April. So while all the talk is about how hot the Knicks have been, the Hawks have actually been even better.
This series is a prototypical clash of styles — the Knicks swarming defense versus the Hawks high-powered offense — featuring two teams ready to prove their worth on the national stage. There’s simply no way 14 out of 16 “analysts” should look at this series and pick the Knicks. I’m almost 100% positive that if the Hawks players swapped jerseys and were playing in New York, this “analysis” would be reversed. Thankfully, it will all be settled on the court, and this is just more bulletin board material for Nate McMillan to utilize leading up to what should be a thrilling series.