New York Knicks fans might not admit it, but they are worried about an impending case of deja vu hitting Madison Square Garden. On the surface, any qualms seem inappropriate given the strides this franchise has taken.

After an eternal search, the team finally found their point guard in Jalen Brunson, and boy has he opened up the offense. Julius Randle is playing the best basketball of his career. Immanuel Quickley has broken out and is a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. This season has been an unequivocal success. And yet, it feels eerily familiar to a couple years ago.

The Knicks were 41-31 and earned the No. 4 seed in the playoffs in the 2020-21 season, the first year under head coach Tom Thibodeau. They played his trademark smothering defense and allowed the lowest points per game in the NBA. Randle was showered with MVP chants from the home crowd. The team mercilessly ended a woeful run of seven-straight losing seasons. Again, it was an unequivocal success.

Then the clock struck midnight, Randle quickly outgrew the glass slipper and Trae Young spoiled an entire city's good time. New York was ousted from the first round of the postseason by the Atlanta Hawks, rather unceremoniously in five games. It was a reality check for fans and the franchise that there was still quite a large gap between them and the top-tier of the Eastern Conference.

Fast forward past a disappointing 37-45 campaign last season, and the Knickerbockers find themselves on the edge of that same trajectory. Could Brunson and his 23.8 points per game on 41 percent 3-point shooting be the difference this year? It is certainly possible, but a couple lucky breaks in the draw would make fans feel a lot more comfortable.

Let's break down the dream seeding scenario and matchups for the New York Knicks in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.

Knicks' best first-round matchup is the Cavs

The Knicks will have a tough first-round opponent no matter which way you slice it. They currently sit in fifth place at 42-33, five games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth and one-and-a-half games ahead of the Miami Heat for sixth. Obviously, worst case scenario would be falling into seventh and into the NBA Play-In Tournament, but the Brooklyn Nets seem more likely to slide into that spot.

Sixth place would mean facing either the Philadelphia 76ers or the Boston Celtics, which is far more foreboding than New York's regular season record against those teams would indicate- split with Sixers and won three of four versus Celtics. That leaves a battle with almost-Knick Donovan Mitchell and the Cavs.

On-paper, it seems like a true No.4-5 seed billing. The Knicks again have fared well during the year against their potential opponent, having won two of three meetings with one still on tap at the end of March. Still, in many ways these teams mirror each other. They each have two stars who can drop 25-30 points on a given night- Mitchell and Darius Garland and Brunson and Randle- and top-notch rim protectors who take care of things inside in Jarrett Allen and Mitchell Robinson. New York could gain the edge with their rebounding and perimeter defense, though.

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Mitchell and Garland shoot 37.9 and 41.6 percent from distance, respectively, but the Knicks hold teams to just over 35 percent, per They will need to bring that strong effort against one of the league's most lethal backcourts. They will get their points, but off nights or games that are good instead of great will force young Evan Mobley to rise to the occasion and take on a bigger offensive role. He could definitely step up, but that is the player the Knicks should prefer to battle in big spots rather than Mitchell.

Brunson missed a few games with a knee injury and is now out with a sprained right hand. If he is not healthy, the Knicks have no chance. If he is, Brunson is capable of standing toe to toe with four-time All-Star Mitchell. His excellent handle will open up lanes, but he will also need to rely on Quickley and Quentin Grimes on the perimeter since Allen poses problems at the basket.

Not to be left out, Josh Hart has been an X factor since the team traded for him and will continue to be during the NBA Playoffs. His impact on both ends fuels this group and makes everything easier. Role players are critical at this time of the year, particuarly in a matchup that already has plenty of star power in the starting lineups.

Best Seeding for Entire Eastern Conference

Why stop at the first round? The Hawks team that beat the Knicks two years ago went on an improbable conference finals run. If Thibodeau's guys are going to do the same, they will need the postseason draw to break their way. Below, is what I project to be their best-case scenario, 1-8, for NBA Playoffs seeding.

  1. Celtics
  2. Bucks
  3. Sixers
  4. Cavs
  5. Knicks
  6. Nets
  7. Heat
  8. Hawks

It is almost exactly how it is now except for one big change at the top. The Celtics are two-and-half games behind the Bucks and still have Philly to worry about, but they do play Giannis Antetokounmpo and company one more time before season end. If they grab that one, they could slide up to No. 1 even with only nine games left.

As mentioned before, all of the top three teams are daunting, but a second-round meeting with the C's and an Eastern Conference showdown with the Sixers is probably the Knicks' best hope at a miraculous run. Boston is at its best when Robert Williams is at full force. He has only played in 29 games this season and has seen his production dip from last year. Mitchell Robinson has his own trouble staying healthy, but if the 25-year-old is physically and mentally right, then he could give the opposition fits.

Teams rarely outwork the Celtics, but the Knicks should be well-aware that high intensity is what will propel them forward. That, and huge nights from their star duo. RJ Barrett ascending to the level fans have expected him to reach couldn't hurt either.

That leaves either the Bucks, who would have had two grueling series against the Heat and Sixers, or the Sixers who would have immeasurable pressure on their shoulders to finally reach the NBA Finals. Joel Embiid has emerged as the MVP frontrunner and will be frightening for the Knicks to deal with. Again, though, having a strong defender like Robinson down low will be crucial. New York needs to put the big-game spotlight on James Harden and hope he again falls a bit short.

It will be very difficult, but the 2023 NBA Playoffs do not have to go the same way as 2021 for the Knicks. They can declare themselves as legitimate contenders in the East in the years to come with a strong showing.

The Knicks Way could have an entirely new meaning a month from now.