New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein celebrates with forward Bojan...

New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein celebrates with forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) after the Knicks scored in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Boston. Credit: AP/Steven Senne

This week for the Knicks has been about closing statements. They locked in a top-six playoff spot on Wednesday and sent a strong message to the Celtics Thursday night with their third straight win.

The last regular-season statement comes this weekend. But for coach Tom Thibodeau, how the Knicks look after their recent four-game road trip means more than where they finish in the standings.

“We talked about it at the beginning of the year,” Thibodeau said about the Knicks’ focus before they took on the Nets at the Garden. “That’s why you establish routines, build habits, don’t get distracted. It’s easy to get distracted in the league but don’t let anyone take you off the task at hand.”

A win Friday night against the Nets secures the Knicks home-court advantage in the first round. If they can defeat the Nets and then beat the Bulls on Sunday, they’ll be no worse than the No. 3 seed in the East. If the Knicks win both games and the Bucks lose both of their remaining two, they'll leapfrog the Bucks for second place.

Milwaukee is currently ahead of the Knicks by one game and play Friday night at Oklahoma City. All the Bucks need to do is win one of their two games to lock in the No. 2 seed. If both the Bucks and Knicks finish with the same record, the Bucks will remain ahead because of the tiebreaker advantage.

Should the Knicks lose both games, however, that opens the door for the Cavaliers, who entered Friday a game behind them in fourth place. The Cavaliers would have to win their final two games, including Friday night vs. the Pacers, to jump them for third.

Two Knicks' losses could also have them falling to the No. 5 seed. But that requires the Cavaliers, Magic and Pacers to each win their final two games, a wonky, yet plausible scenario.

For players like Bojan Bogdanovic, it’s a push he appreciates after missing the playoffs last season with the Pistons.

“We are fighting for something, for the highest possible seed that we can get and then have home-court advantage as long as we can,” Bogdanovic said. “So it’s different story and different feeling to be out there.”

Home court and a top-four seed are no guarantees for playoff success. The Knicks proved that last year knocking off the higher-seed Cavaliers in five games before losing to the lower-seeded Heat in six.

But they have long valued the process over the rewards. Thursday’s win in Boston meant the Knicks have 48 wins this season, one more than last year.

There’s a chance to reach 50 for the first time since 2012-13. But that’s felt secondary to the ultimate goal. How they play comes first, and it’s why they can be pleased winning the last three games of their four-game road trip.

“You take it one day at a time. And it’s not over. You have to go through the finishing line,” Thibodeau said Thursday. “And for some teams — the Celtics have built up a big cushion, so they’re in a different category, but for the rest of us, we’re all fighting for seeding and home court and that sort of thing. So that’s our challenge."

The challenge gets amplified this final weekend of the season. Win one game, it guarantees Game 1 and 2 of the first round are at Madison Square Garden.

Notes & quotes: Isaiah Hartenstein (left Achilles) is out for Friday night's game, the second of a back-to-back due to injury management.

For the Nets, Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee effusion), Dennis Schroder (right Achilles soreness) and Dennis Smith Jr. (right hip synovitis) were ruled out, and coach Kevin Ollie said also they’ll miss Sunday’s season finale in Philadelphia.

Cam Johnson (left sprained big toe) and Day’Ron Sharpe (right wrist effusion) are also out Friday but their status for Sunday remains to be determined.


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