ATLANTA - Suddenly the Knicks are playing meaningful games.
After owning the worst record in the NBA for most of the season, the Knicks now need to lose their final two games to ensure a last-place finish. But that won't guarantee them a top-four pick in the June draft.
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The Knicks and Timberwolves are 16-64, tied for the worst record in the league. If they end up with identical records after Wednesday's season finale, they essentially will split the lottery odds for the top two seeds. But a drawing at the end of the week would determine who gets the extra chance and ultimately will be considered the NBA's worst team.
The worst team can pick one through four. The second-worst team can't pick lower than fifth.
It would be a major disappointment if the Knicks didn't get one of the top two picks after enduring the worst season in franchise history. But they put themselves in this must-lose position with Saturday night's one-point victory over the Magic. The Timberwolves lost to Golden State later that night to drop into a tie.
"I don't believe in trying to lose and I don't think that's what our organization believes, either," Knicks coach Derek Fisher said after the win.
Tim Hardaway Jr., who hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 12.6 seconds left, said he is not concerned if that game hurt the Knicks' chances of winning the lottery. "I'm not worried about that," he said. "I'm worried about the win. I'm happy we got the win. I hope we win the rest of these games. We're going to go out there and play hard. We're going to go out there and try to win each and every one of these last games."
The Knicks' last two games are Monday night in Atlanta and Wednesday at home against Detroit. Neither team is playing for anything, so the Knicks could win one or both. The Hawks have locked up the East's No. 1 seed and the Pistons are out of the playoffs.
The Timberwolves will host New Orleans and Oklahoma City -- two teams fighting for the last playoff spot in the West.
If one team finishes with a worse record, it will have a 25-percent chance of winning the May 19 draft lottery and the other will have a 19.9-percent chance. But if there is a tie, each team will have roughly a 22.5- percent chance of selecting first.
Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns and Duke center Jahlil Okafor are projected to be the top two picks. Guards D'Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Emmanual Mudiay, who played in China, Kentucky 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein and versatile Duke swingman Justise Winslow would be in the mix for the next three selections."I don't think we can control the way the pingpong ball or whatever they use will drop," Fisher said. "We just have to go about our business. Whatever it is, it will be a good player. We'll be fortunate enough to be in that position, and we'll just make the most of it."