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Knicks hungry to earn Eastern Conference's fourth seed in playoffs

Knicks' Julius Randle (30) protects the ball from

Knicks' Julius Randle (30) protects the ball from San Antonio Spurs' Keldon Johnson (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, May 13, 2021. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

After 70 games, overachieving and exceeding almost all expectations, the Knicks have qualified for the playoffs and assured themselves of a top-six finish in the Eastern Conference. They also know that the job isn’t done.

If the season began full of questions about whether the NBA would even get through the schedule, the Knicks have had their own questions to answer along the way: Could they shake off the stench of dysfunction? Could they become a competitive team? Could they slip into the NBA’s play-in tournament? Could they push their way into a playoff berth?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

But the Knicks still want more. With two games left in the regular season, they head into the final weekend hopeful of pushing all the way up to the fourth spot in the conference and earning home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

"Yeah, of course," RJ Barrett said. "Most definitely. We definitely want that fourth seed. We want home court. All we can do is take care of business."

Taking care of business is not enough to settle their fate, though.

Simply winning out will not assure them of moving up in the standings, but it’s a necessary step, one they kept alive by overcoming a 17-point deficit Thursday to beat the Spurs at Madison Square Garden.

While the Knicks know they will finish in fourth, fifth or sixth place, just where they’ll wind up and whom they will face in the first round of the playoffs might not be resolved until late Sunday night.

The Knicks (39-31) — who swept the Hawks (40-31) and were swept by the Heat (39-31) this season — will host the Hornets on Saturday afternoon and the Celtics on Sunday afternoon.

For all of the permutations still in play, the simplest way for the Knicks to move up would be this: If they win the final two games and the Heat lose to the Bucks in Milwaukee on Saturday night or the Pistons in Detroit on Sunday night, the Knicks will assure themselves of the fourth seed.

That scenario would at least tie them with the Hawks — over whom the Knicks have a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage in the event of a two-way tie — and give them a one-game lead over the Heat in the final standings.

Two wins by the Knicks and one loss by the Heat would render Atlanta’s final game against Orlando on Sunday night moot in terms of the Knicks’ place in the standings.

If the three teams finish tied, the Knicks will remain in sixth place because of a series of tiebreakers, with the fourth criteria (conference record) pushing them to the bottom of the three teams.

Julius Randle said he is scoreboard-watching now and joked that those who say they aren’t are liars.

"I mean, it’s exciting," Randle said. "But we’re really just focused on Charlotte. Got to take care of business, take care of our end and let the chips fall where they may."

WHAT TO KNOW

Playoff-bound, the Knicks are still waiting for clarity. The final days of the NBA regular season remain in play to determine just where the Knicks will finish and who they will face in the first round of the playoffs.

Best case: The Heat lose to the Bucks Saturday night and the Knicks win their final two against the Hornets and Celtics, which would assure the Knicks of the fourth seed and home-court advantage in a first-round playoff series.

Worst case: Even if they win out the Knicks can still finish in sixth place in the East and face Milwaukee or Brooklyn in the first round.

New York Sports