NBA exec is surprised New York Knicks didn’t tank for No. 3 seed to avoid Philadelphia 76ers

Mike Battaglino
4 Min Read
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks did everything they could to earn the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the 2024 NBA Playoffs, but one league executive said he is surprised they didn’t try to end up with the No. 3 seed instead in order to help avoid a first-round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers.

“This one is tough,” the executive told The Athletic. “I can’t believe New York decided to win that last game (laughs).”

Of course, when the Knicks wrapped up their regular season schedule with an overtime win on Sunday, they didn’t know for sure that the 76ers would wind up as their opening opponent. Philadelphia had to win a play-in game on Wednesday against the Miami Heat to earn the No. 7 seed, which they did with a narrow 105-104 victory.

Despite learning that All-Star Julius Randle would not be able to return this season because of a lingering injury, the Knicks won their final five regular season games and six of their last seven to finish with a 50-32 record that wound up second in the standings behind the Boston Celtics. New York finished one game ahead of the third-place Milwaukee Bucks, who lost their final two games and eight of their last 11.

The Knicks won their season finale against the Chicago Bulls when a loss would have given them the No. 3 seed and a known matchup against the No. 6 seed Indiana Pacers.

Instead, they learned they will take on the 76ers, who are believed to be a more serious threat mostly in part because of the presence of Joel Embiid, who missed significant time this season because of injury but was able to return to action earlier this month.

“The Basketball Gods, this and that,” the executive said. “But do you really want to face a fully healthy Philly team? Probably not. But this one can really go either way. I’ll go Sixers in seven. New York is going to be playing tired, playing the way they’re playing. They are still small. They’re fighters, but they’re small. No Julius. They’ve got nobody for Embiid. [Isaiah] Hartenstein is not going to do anything for Embiid. I think it’s going to be Sixers.”

The Knicks, however, don’t seem to be too worried about facing the 76ers, with Josh Hart giving a forceful response to Paul Reed after the 76ers player called New York an “easier team” to face than the Celtics.

The 76ers did lose three of four games to the Knicks during the regular season, but it is definitely worth nothing that Embiid was unavailable for three of those games, including Philadelphia’s lone victory.

Now the teams will get to settling playoff matters on the court, starting with Game 1 of the series at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

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Mike is a veteran journalist who has focused on New York sports. He has covered the NBA and NFL for almost three decades and is still waiting for the next championship for the Knicks and Jets.