Knicks guard Jalen Brunson drives to the basket for a...

Knicks guard Jalen Brunson drives to the basket for a layup ahead of Pistons guard Evan Fournier in the second half of an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on Monday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

TORONTO — Saturday, in an otherwise forgettable game against the Nets, Jalen Brunson played his 65th game of the season. That is also unremarkable in some ways for a player who had reached that number in almost every season of his career.

But it’s notable this season because it is the marker the NBA has put in place for a player to qualify for postseason honors. It is an effort — futile mostly — to prod the league’s stars into showing up for work. Many of the stars still won’t hit the number, but Brunson was on the court Monday night against a skeleton crew of a Detroit Pistons squad. He was again on court Wednesday night as the Knicks faced a Toronto Raptors squad without many of its starters.

“A lot of it is focusing on what we have to do to be better every single day,” Brunson said after the morning shootaround. “When you are playing teams who aren’t at full strength, no matter what the situation is, you can’t just walk into that game and think it’s going to be easy. It doesn’t matter the situation of who’s playing or not. We have to go out there and play the same way every time.”

That’s a message that Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau preaches to the team. It's also one that Brunson has heard for longer than he can remember.

“Yeah, I got that plenty of times,” he said. “And the worst part about that is I’ve heard that since I’ve been a kid from Thibs, my dad, pretty much every single coach I’ve had. So I think that is ingrained in my mind.”

His reward for doing what comes naturally to him, what has been ingrained in him, likely will come at season’s end. That is when Brunson is likely to earn All-NBA honors for the first time in his career. And after that Brunson is now eligible for a four-year, $156.5 million contract extension. Sources have indicated that Brunson will likely pass on the chance to grow that number in another year and secure his future in New York this summer.

But as you might expect, with 11 more regular-season games to play and a postseason run the goal, Brunson isn’t going to focus on the rewards at the end.

“I mean, Obviously that’s a thing that you want to obviously have, security,” Brunson said. “But I’m just focusing on finishing the season, doing the best we can to make sure everyone’s back healthy and just doing my part. That’s at the forefront of my mind and I’ll worry about that stuff later.”

“It’s one of the things that you love about him,” Thibodeau said. “And then there’s many thing that he does — obviously his talent. Just the way he works every day. Even if we have a heavy stretch of games, he’s in every day. [With] back-to-back [games] he’s going to go to the gym to shoot. Every night he’s going to come in to shoot. There’s no days off for him. I think that’s why he’s become the player that he has. The best part of him is he just cares about winning. That’s the best leadership you could have.”

The front office will have a lot of work to do this summer. OG Anunoby and Isaiah Hartenstein are unrestricted free agents, Precious Achiuwa is set to become a restricted free agent and Brunson and Julius Randle are eligible for extensions. And that all can be aligned with attempts to use their assets to obtain one more star piece. They have a stockpile of draft picks, the expiring contract of Bojan Bogdanovic and whatever else could add up to matching salaries. But this summer might be the time to get it done with the cap constraints tightening after these moves.

But rewarding Brunson, who has proved to be a bargain two years into his four-year, $104 million deal, is a no-brainer. And the awards season might prove that. With players like Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell, Jimmy Butler and Randle not meeting the 65-game requirement it narrows the field. Brunson certainly would deserve strong consideration even if all were eligible. He is currently sixth in the NBA in scoring and guiding the Knicks to a 43-28 record entering Wednesday’s game.

“My list of goals is private,” Brunson said. “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

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