For the first time in eight years, the New York Knicks have clinched a playoff spot.
With three home games remaining, the Knicks hope to improve their positioning in the Eastern Conference starting on Thursday when they host the San Antonio Spurs.
The Knicks (38-31) clinched a berth that wasunexpected by many heading into the season and are assured of at least a top-six seed after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. After Boston lost to Cleveland, New York star Julius Randle tweeted: "Check it off the list. We not close to done."
New York holds the same record as the Miami Heat but lost all three head-to-head meetings. The Knicks are a half-game behind the fourth-place Atlanta Hawks, from whom they swept the season series. If all three teams are tied, the NBA's tiebreakers say a division winner is the first tiebreaker and a head-to-head record is the second tiebreaker.
The Knicks are returning from splitting a six-game road trip and are 13-4 in their past 17 games since falling to 25-27 with a two-point loss at Boston on April 7. New York nearly posted a winning trip but took a 101-99 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night in a game that featured 22 lead changes.
"We fought like hell," Randle said. "Me, I played to exhaustion. I know my guys played to exhaustion. To do what we did, last game of the road trip, against a championship-caliber team, the play was great."
New York was done in by rebounding woes as it was outrebounded 51-38 and could not get a rebound before the Lakers hit the tying shot in regulation.
"Rebounding beat us tonight," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "All we had to do is get that last rebound, the last shot of the game. Everyone's got to get a body on everyone."
Even with the rebounding woes, the Knicks got monster performances from Randle and Derrick Rose. Randle scored 31 points, marking his 14th 30-point showing of the season, while Rose finished with a season-high 27 points to cap the trip.
The Knicks are playing a rescheduled game from February due to a positive COVID-19 test on the Spurs at the time but could be undermanned. Reggie Bullock (ankle), Alec Burks (knee), Immanuel Quickley (ankle) and Rose (ankle) are listed as questionable.
San Antonio (33-36) is 2-7 in its past nine games and missed a chance to clinch 10th place in the Western Conference when it never led in a 128-116 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.
DeMar DeRozan scored 21 points and Dejounte Murray added 15 but the Spurs trailed by double digits for most of the night. They remain two games ahead of the Sacramento Kings.
The Spurs dropped three games behind the ninth-place Memphis Grizzlies by being unable to follow up one of their most impressive wins of the season. After shooting 59.6 percent and hitting 17 3-pointers in a 146-125 rout of the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, San Antonio shot 42.6 percent and missed 23 of 31 3-point tries.
"I just want to win and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win," Murray said. "But at the end of the day, the situation we're in, the last option is getting that play-in berth and going to see what we can do to try to get in the playoffs."
--Field Level Media