In the depths of their seven-year playoff drought, where elimination was the only thing clinched this time of year, the Knicks would have taken a 1 percent chance — from any person, any simulator or, heck, any dream — of winning the title.
Because 1 percent is better than a tenth of a percentage. It’s better than zero, too.
That’s why the final number in a series of projections from FiveThirtyEight — which as of Tuesday morning gives the Knicks a greater than 99 percent chance of making the playoffs, a 3 percent chance of making the NBA Finals and a 1 percent chance of winning the title — might be a bit deceiving. It’s worth more than a digit.
This will be just the Knicks’ fifth season with a winning record since 2001-02 — and their second since 2012-13, a decade that featured their lengthy drought and seven different head or interim coaches.
Their route through the Eastern Conference will be brutal, but after years of mediocrity, the fact their name appears in any corner of the championship conversation adds some relevance to the Garden and the Knicks.
After years of being a no-shot franchise, at least they’ve graduated to being a long shot.
Any playoff series win would be their first since the days of Mike Woodson, whose Indiana Hoosiers were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. It’d be just their second playoff series victory since 1999-00.
They’re positioned for a first-round matchup against the Cavaliers, and the route if they survive that round likely goes through two of the Eastern Conference’s top three teams: the Bucks, the Celtics, the 76ers.
But two wins over the last three weeks have demonstrated how high the Knicks’ ceiling can actually be. They knocked off the Celtics in a double-overtime thriller on March 5, and then Saturday, Jalen Brunson returned from a nagging foot injury and scored 24 points to key a victory over the Nuggets, who hold the Western Conference’s top spot.
Even the setbacks these days come with rare achievements. In Monday night’s defensively disastrous 140-134 home loss to the desperate Timberwolves, Julius Randle scored a career-high 57 points — the most by a Knick since Carmelo Anthony’s record 62 in early 2014 and tied for the third-highest total in franchise history.
The Knicks have demonstrated the ability to keep pace with — and occasionally surpass — some of the NBA’s best. Their FiveThirtyEight odds for winning and making the NBA Finals peaked the day after the Celtics victory at 2 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
There are some pivotal factors, though, that will determine whether these numbers will come to mean something or soon be dismissed as analytical noise.
Brunson’s foot can’t become an issue that would limit or prevent him from playing in the postseason.
The recent six-game stretch in which Julius Randle shot 20 percent on 3-pointers needs to be an anomaly, a diversion from his rate up to that point (35.5 percent) — even if he’s not routinely raining down 19-for-29, 8-for-14 from 3 shooting nights as he did in Monday night’s masterpiece.
But unlike years past, the Knicks still have a chance, and it’s more than just a flailing one.
Maybe there is a scenario where they win the whole thing for the first time since 1973.
The numbers haven’t favored the Knicks at any point in the final weeks of the regular season since 2016, when FiveThirtyEight started logging its simulated NBA title percentage odds.
With the exception of 2020-21, when they made the postseason but lost to the Hawks in the opening round, the Knicks have always been eliminated. The Garden was filled with fans wondering what if instead of what could be.
So welcome to the present. Welcome to the era of what The Post’s Mike Vaccaro coined “Knickanova.” Welcome to the post-Carmelo, post-playoff drought, post-“Bing Bong” headlines.
Welcome to relevance. Real, genuine relevance. The Knicks, for once, have a chance, and for once that means more than the numbers might indicate.
Today’s back page
🏀 Knicks legend impressed with Princeton’s Sweet 16 run that brings back memories
🏈 COSTELLO: Jets must weigh these Odell Beckham factors
⚾ Francisco Lindor opens up about Edwin Diaz injury: ‘Couldn’t stop crying’
⚾ Yankees’ shortstop competition is a lot less blurry now
Pitino is here and the Big East is back
Between its three teams in the Sweet 16, Ed Cooley’s bolt from Providence to Georgetown and Rick Pitino’s monumental hire at St. John’s, the Big East has endured a thrilling 48 hours that reshapes the outlook for the 2023-24 season and beyond.
This could become one of the most anticipated years in recent memory, a pivotal step for a conference that a decade ago lost premier programs to the Atlantic Coast Conference and lost its highest-profile coach when Jay Wright retired following the 2021-22 season.
But then the Red Storm snagged Pitino from Iona — on a six-year deal — to complete a hire that had approval from legendary coach Lou Carnesecca and key booster Mike Repole (and the Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau).
St. John’s needed this hire to keep pace with the conference’s other members, and in doing so, acquired the most interesting name on the coaching carousel this offseason.
Pitino’s legacy is two-fold, a mix of outstanding coaching success (two national championships, with one eventually vacated) and controversy (the scandals and his firing from Louisville). The latter has defined his past half-decade of coaching, from his end with the Cardinals and his stint in Greece to his restart at Iona and rise in the MAAC.
St. John’s hired Pitino as the 70-year-old’s Iona program won its conference and reached the NCAA Tournament, falling to UConn in the opening round.
The agreement coincides with the Red Storm’s growing need for a rebuild — a quick one — to remain relevant in the Big East.
They’ll add Brandon Gardner, a four-star commit from Christ the King High School in Queens.
But then they’ll be tasked with rising above teams such as Marquette, which won the conference title. Teams such as Creighton, UConn and Xavier, who will make up a substantial portion of the Sweet 16. Teams such as Georgetown, a legacy program that also made a splash hire, and Villanova, which finished the regular season with six wins in eight games after a slow start.
The Big East had lacked the same firepower from its glory days since the conference fell apart a year ago.
But that has returned, with Pitino’s leap reinforcing that, the new centerpiece of this St. John’s blend of nostalgia and present urgency to keep pace with the rest of the conference.
A Classic finish
This was where the United States was supposed to be: in the final of the World Baseball Classic, in a blockbuster matchup with the eyes of the baseball world upon it.
The U.S. — which cruised to a 14-2 victory over Cuba in the semifinals — will face Japan, 6-5 winners over Mexico in Monday night’s semifinal thriller
That means three of the tournament’s previous four champions will meet at LoanDepot Park for the title.
The end of the World Baseball Classic also means that MLB teams — including the Mets and Yankees — will get their players back with nine days remaining until Opening Day, as games for the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues wind down.
Beneath the event’s most compelling games and passionate moments, the family lineage stories and protests at Sunday’s semifinal, the effects of one trend will linger into the 2023 MLB season: It has been a two-week tournament undermined by major injuries, including costly ones to Mets closer Edwin Diaz and Astros second baseman Jose Altuve.
Diaz suffered a torn patellar tendon while celebrating Puerto Rico’s victory over the Dominican Republic after his save helped eliminate a country pegged as one of the tournament’s top teams and send Puerto Rico into the WBC quarterfinals.
Then, when Venezuela played the United States, Altuve was hit by a pitch on the hand and sustained a broken thumb, which could force the Astros to manage without their star for two months.
But the final game still will feature a star-studded matchup between Shohei Ohtani’s Japan team and the United States. It’ll still feature Trea Turner, the Phillies’ star shortstop, going for his fifth home run to add to his United States WBC record.
How about this possibility: Ohtani pitching in relief with the game on the line against Angels teammate Mike Trout?
Japan hasn’t lost in the WBC, and in Pool B, it didn’t win a game by fewer than six runs. Ohtani’s leadoff double sparked a ninth-inning rally Monday night to propel Japan to the final.
It’ll mark the first time that Japan and the United States have met in the title game, but at least one of the countries has finished third or better in each of the tournament’s four previous editions.