In a marathon NBA campaign, the games can blur together, but in the next two games, the Knicks can put a stamp on their regular season and extend their postseason hopes.
First up is a Garden game on Wednesday against the Heat, who are a little lower in the Eastern Conference standings.
Miami entered Tuesday night 2 ¹/₂ games behind the Knicks.
If the Knicks are to take firm control of their fifth-place finish, a win – essentially a double as it would also secure a tie against the Heat – will be critical.
The Nets entered Tuesday tied with the Heat, but the Knicks won’t face them again.
Barring several mishaps, the Knicks and Heat likely won’t face each other in the postseason.
Instead, the rivalry will win perhaps the brightest spotlight of the season’s regular season.
“It’s definitely going to have that playoff-type atmosphere for sure,” Immanuel Quickley said after the Knicks’ win over the Rockets on Monday, which calmed some of the fears surrounding the team. “Miami is a very good team. I think we are ready for that challenge.”
Jalen Brunson, who is reportedly looking to make a move on Kevin Love after the Knicks lost to the Heat, is questionable for Wednesday’s home game against Miami.USA TODAY Sports
After the showdown with the Heat, coach Tom Thibodeau’s team will travel to Cleveland on Friday for a game against Donovan Mitchell and the fourth-ranked Cavaliers. That’s the likely first-round playoff preview — if the Knicks (43-33) can hold off the Heat and Nets.
The batter, however, is a familiar opponent for the Heat, who the Knicks beat twice this season before losing a game last week in Miami.
A win would give the Knicks the head-to-head tiebreaker. A loss would open the door for the Heat, who would likely own the next tiebreaker as the leader of the Southeast Division: Division winners get the advantage, too, and the Knicks trail the Celtics and 76ers in the Atlantic.
“If we can get this, it will put us in a better position as well, especially losing to them,” RJ Barrett said. “It’s definitely a focus.”
Jalen Brunson is doubtful for the game after missing two straight games with a sprained right hand.
The star point guard wore a key on his right hand and wrist on Monday. It is only a concern of his recent injuries.
He has missed seven of the last 11 games, first with an injured left foot, and now with a wrist concern. The Knicks have lost six of those 11 games, including three in a row before destroying Houston.
Julius Randle leads Caleb Martin in the Knicks’ loss to the Heat a week ago.Getty Images
The Heat will play at the end of Tuesday night’s game in Toronto.
Jimmy Butler (neck soreness), who has scored 10, 33 and 35 points in three games with the Knicks this season, sat out Tuesday, though it would be hard to imagine the lanky star forward missing the Heat’s most important game of the season.
“He’s a good player, a smart player, he’s physical, but he’s also versatile,” Josh Hart said. “He knows his angles and stuff like that. It’s tough. … He’s a tremendous player.”
Kyle Lowry, who has been sidelined with knee soreness, played on Tuesday and told reporters that doctors have not cleared him to play back-to-back days.
So the guard will likely sit out as the Knicks and Heat wrap up their season series.
“Playing a team for the fourth time is basically almost like a playoff series. You know what the other team is going to run,” Quickley said.
“We know Miami is a great team. We think we are a very good team.”
The Knicks have no backs this season and, as of Tuesday afternoon, had the 14th-easiest schedule (opponents have a .497 winning percentage) the rest of the way.
After this difficult week, the Knicks have home games against the Wizards and Pacers and road games at Indiana and New Orleans.
The Heat, and especially the Nets, will end the season more easily. Of the Nets’ last seven opponents, only the Timberwolves (39-37) and 76ers (49-26) boast winning records, and the matchup with third-place Philadelphia will be the season finale, so the Nets may be in contention. A watered down version of the Sixers.
Those scenarios would be important if the Knicks can’t lock down the fifth seed.
With a win on Wednesday, the Knicks can get a drama-free end to the regular season and a promising start to the postseason.