NBA

Hart highlights Madison Square Garden factor as Knicks battle Bucks for second seed

By Sports Desk April 13, 2024

The New York Knicks are under no illusions as to the importance of securing home-court advantage for the Eastern Conference playoffs, with Friday's win over the Brooklyn Nets keeping them in the hunt for the second seed.

The Knicks drew level with the Milwaukee Bucks at 49-32 with their 111-107 win at Madison Square Garden, boosting their chances of playing at the iconic venue through the postseason.

Jalen Brunson put up 30 points and added 11 assists as the Knicks made it four straight victories, with Josh Hart adding 16 and Mitchell Robinson tacking on 15.

The result saw New York secure a top-four seed, with the Bucks' subsequent 125-107 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder keeping their chances of finishing second in the East alive.

With the Bucks possessing the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Knicks must beat the Chicago Bulls in their season finale on Sunday and hope Milwaukee lose on the road against the Orlando Magic. If both teams lose, the Cleveland Cavaliers could yet usurp them.

Asked about the importance of playing at home, Hart said: "I heard the lights are really bright at MSG during that time, so it's really big for us."

Coach Tom Thibodeau, though, said the team cannot control anything other than their own results, saying: "We want to go through the finish line so that's the way we're looking at it. We want to improve and play our best."

With Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined by a left calf injury and Damian Lillard missing out due to pain in his left adductor, the short-handed Bucks let the Knicks into the race with their loss at Paycom Center.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 23 points and Chet Holmgren added 22 as the Thunder eased to victory, establishing a 17-point halftime lead which they never looked likely to surrender.

Asked about Milwaukee's failure to wrap up second place, Bucks coach Doc Rivers said: "I don't have much of a reaction. We've got to run to the finish line.

"The good news is, no matter what, we'll be at home for game one. That we do know."

That result was also an important one in the race to top the Western Conference, with the Thunder now locked in a three-way tie with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets.

It's in Oklahoma City's hands going into their season finale against the Dallas Mavericks, with Mark Daigneault's team edging the three-way tiebreaker.

"I think the big exponential jumps come from small incremental steps," Daigneault said after Friday's game. "I talk all the time about stacking and we really are trying to live that out. 

"We just try to have a good day in the day that's in front of us, have a good possession in the possession that's in front of us, a good game in the game that's in front of us and just be very present in the process of improving and competing."

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