New York Knicks Frank Ntilikina
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The New York Knicks schedule is out and it’s a first look at how the season could play out for the young Knickerbockers.

The NBA schedule was finally unveiled on Friday and New York Knicks fans can start plotting out wins and losses on the schedule. The conspiracy theorists (looking at you Stan Van Gundy) can search for something to complain about. But most of all, we can take a look at the important parts of the schedule, the tough stretches, and the most intriguing matchups.

Nationally Televised Games

The Knicks are still a big-ticket franchise despite what their record may say. That being said, the Knicks only have five nationally televised games (12 if NBA TV games are included). They are certainly on the lower end of the spectrum, but they also have the benefit of landing another Christmas Day game at home.

Their first nationally televised game comes on Oct. 31 against the Indiana Pacers. This game will be broadcast on MSG as well as ESPN. The Knicks and Pacers will take center stage once again on Jan. 11 when they are televised on ESPN. The Knicks-Pacers rivalry stretches back to Reggie Miller and Patrick Ewing. Hopefully, once the Knicks pull themselves out of the depths of the East Victor Oladipo and Kristaps Porzingis can reignite this rivalry.

The second national game of the season comes in Boston on Dec. 6. Oddly enough, the Knicks play another nationally televised game against the Celtics on Feb. 1 in the Garden—Madison Square Garden that is. So four of the five national games for the Knicks come against the Pacers and the Celtics.

Additionally, the Kyrie Irving rumors are already gaining steam. Each of these games will be another opportunity for everyone to discuss Irving playing his home games in the Garden—the real one, Madison Square Garden. However likely or unlikely the rumors are, the Knicks and Celtics appearing on national TV is a no-brainer.

The biggest nationally televised game for the Knicks is undoubtedly the team’s meeting with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas Day. The biggest day of the NBA regular season coincides with the day St. Nick slides down the chimney. Giannis brings the star power and the Knicks bring brand recognition. People can complain about it until they are blue in the face, but the Knicks should always play on Christmas Day.

However, this game could take on an entirely new meaning if a certain Latvian big man shocks the world and returns from injury. Porzingis tore his ACL last season after landing awkwardly on a dunk against Giannis and the Bucks. It would be fitting if the Unicorn made his return against the Bucks and give every Knicks fan one present on their wish list.

Of course, this is pure speculation at this point and neither the Knicks or Porzingis have made any indication as to when he’ll return. But it would be as dramatic a comeback as the Latvian could possibly make.

Easiest Stretch

Unfortunately for David Fizdale and his squad, there aren’t many breaks in this year’s schedule. The team is in a brutal division with three of the favorites in the Eastern Conference (Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto) and an up-and-coming Brooklyn Nets squad.

But if there is a brief respite in the schedule, it comes at the end of February and beginning of March. Starting on Feb. 26 the Knicks play the Magic (H), the Cavaliers (H), the Clippers (A), the Kings (A), the Suns (A) and finish up with the Kings (H). All six of these games are winnable games on paper.

But what makes this stretch difficult is the road trip out west with a back-to-back sandwiched in there. It’s not an easy stretch by any measure, but that signifies just how difficult the Knicks’ schedule looks on paper.

Toughest Stretch

This was a much easier call. The toughest stretch of the year begins with a lump of coal on Christmas Day. Even if Porzingis shocks the world and returns to the team, the Knicks will be lucky to escape this stretch with a handful of wins.

The 12-game nightmare scenario begins with the Bucks (H) on Christmas Day and a second matchup with Milwaukee (A) two days later. Following that two-step with the Bucks, the Knicks embark on a west coast road trip that includes games against Utah, Denver, the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland, and Golden State—all potential playoff teams.

The Knicks return home to play Indiana in a nationally televised game. They play another home game against the Sixers two days later before traveling to our nation’s capital to play the Wizards. And they finally round out this nightmarish 12-game stretch with games at home against the Thunder and the Rockets.

If the Knicks can salvage four wins out of that stretch, call it a victory. If they manage to win five—or shock the world and split with six wins—throw a ticker tape parade in their honor.

The young players on the roster should learn a lot about dealing with adversity during this stretch. If nothing else, it can serve to toughen up guys like Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and Frank Ntilikina for the future.

Most Intriguing Matchups

Of course, first and foremost, Christmas Day games are awesome and that should fall somewhere near the top of this list. But since we have that covered, let’s move on to a few of the other captivating matchups for the season ahead.

Right off the jump, Hawks vs. Knicks to open the season on Oct. 17 is worth tuning in for. First of all, it’s finally real, live Knicks basketball again so be thankful for that. Second, it includes some awesome young players to watch. Frank Ntilikina will try to put the clamps on Trae Young like he did in Las Vegas. Kevin Knox will make his highly anticipated debut on the hardwood of Madison Square Garden.

Not to mention, John Collins of Atlanta is an underrated young big and Mitchell Robinson is one of the biggest wild cards for the Knicks ahead of the 2018-19 season. Youthful exuberance will be on display in the opening game for both teams.

Pick a date for any Nets game, but the most intriguing could be on Jan. 25 in Brooklyn. Both teams are in the midst of slow rebuilds, but both are starting to see the light at the end of their respective tunnels. The crosstown rivalry is on the verge of exploding and each matchup this season will be worth watching as a sort of preview into the future.

We’re picking Jan. 25 because that is the last time these teams square off. Nothing will feel totally real for this Knicks team until Kristaps Porzingis is back in the lineup. Perhaps late January is still too early to expect the Latvian to return, but the Brooklyn rivalry will have some serious juice when he finally does return.

But perhaps the single most exciting game on the schedule will come on St. Patrick’s Day when the Los Angeles Lakers come to town for a matinee. Knicks fans will finally see Michael Beasley return LeBron James playing in Madison Square Garden in a Lakers uniform. It’s still a bit surreal to think about and it may not feel completely real until the season begins. James always puts on a show in the Garden and don’t expect this time around to be any different.

So while the Knicks schedule looks to be absolutely brutal on paper, the bevy of interesting matchups, solid set of nationally televised games—including a Christmas Day affair, and tough stretches in the schedule should make for a memorable season.

Everyone knows this season is about player development and no one should expect the Knicks to make a run at the playoffs. Despite the ruthlessness of the schedule makers, the Knicks can grow and develop the team through the good and bad of the 2018-19 season.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.