Knicks have inside track on fourth seed after OT win, help from Bucks

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In a season full of pleasant surprises, Saturday produced another for the New York Knicks. They no longer need any help to lock up the fourth seed and an ideal matchup against the Hawks. They control their own destiny, requiring only to beat the reeling Celtics at MSG on Sunday.

Hours after the Knicks edged out the Hornets in overtime, the Bucks toppled the Miami Heat to set up New York’s ideal scenario. Miami (39-32), which owns the tiebreaker over the Knicks, is now the sixth seed.

The Knicks (40-31) have the tiebreaker over the Hawks (40-31).

So it all comes down to the season finale against the reeling Celtics, who’ve dropped 4 of 5 and sent Jaylen Brown into season-ending surgery.

The Knicks’ OT win over the Hornets, 118-109, which was administered through a spectacular triple-double from Julius Randle (33 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds), was dramatic but hardly shocking. The Knicks have won 15 of their last 19 games and remain one of the league’s hottest teams.

More shocking was the Heat getting pummeled by the Bucks, 122-108, and the circumstances surrounding that result. The Heat had more incentive to push for the victory, yet it sat Jimmy Butler with a sore back. For the Bucks, a defeat would’ve put them in line to face the Knicks in the first round, perhaps a more favorable matchup because of New York’s playoff inexperience. But Milwaukee played at full strength, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday all logging over 30 minutes. Now they’re more likely to face Miami in Round 1.

“The East is loaded with great teams, great players, great coaches,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game. “It doesn’t make any sense to try to manipulate it. We’re just gonna go play.”

Perhaps the Bucks eagerness to compete is a testament to the Knicks. At this point, no matter the opponent, Tom Thibodeau’s squad has established itself as a tough out in the first round. The Hornets were fighting for the eighth spot Saturday and became the latest to bend to New York’s defense, managing just three points in the last six minutes of regulation.

“I think they know we’re definitely a gritty, hard-playing team, that’s able to play on both ends of the court, especially when our defense is clicking,” center Nerlens Noel said. “It can be a type of nightmare. I’m very confident in our abilities. No matter who the matchup is, we’ll be ready to go.”

The Knicks were also cold in the fourth quarter — and were fortunate to survive when Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham misfired a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer — but erupted in OT.

Randle had five assists in the extra period while taking advantage of the double teams. Alec Burks scored five of 14 points in OT.

“I thought (Randle) and Alec had really good chemistry in the two-man game,” Thibodeau said. “Their responsibility is to read the game. There was switch and a double team and we think we can get good offense off of it. Anytime we can get two onto the ball, we just got to make the right reads and get to your spacing. It created a lot of easy offense for us.”

New York’s record at the Garden improved to 24-11, and it can now close at home to host Game 1 at home.

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