The New York Knicks are closing in on ending the third-longest playoff drought in the NBA.
On Monday night, the Knicks will try to move another step closer to their goal while ensuring the Phoenix Suns wait a bit longer to enjoy clinching a postseason spot of their own.
The pair of teams enjoying rare playoff pushes are scheduled to meet when the Knicks attempt to extend their longest winning streak in eight years.
The Knicks won their ninth straight game Saturday afternoon, when they cruised to a 120-103 victory over the visiting Toronto Raptors.
The Suns missed a chance to cut their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to one on Sunday afternoon. They squandered a 13-point lead in the first half and dropped a 128-119 decision to the host Brooklyn Nets.
The Knicks outscored the Raptors 32-20 in the fourth quarter to extend the franchise’s longest winning streak since a 13-game run during the 2012-13 season. That season marked the last time New York made the playoffs.
“Yeah, we’re peaking, but we can still be a lot better,” said power forward Julius Randle, who had 31 points and 10 rebounds.
The surge has both come at the perfect time and magnified the small margin of error for the Knicks (34-27) in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Atlanta Hawks moved into a tie for fourth place with New York on Sunday night by virtue of their 111-104 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. The two teams are two games ahead of the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat and 4 1/2 in front of the ninth-place Indiana Pacers.
“There’s still so much work to do,” Knicks power forward Nerlens Noel said Sunday. “But I think it’s a special moment, special year, special season. And you really want to cap it off in the best way possible.”
While their first playoff berth since the spring of 2010 isn’t officially sealed, the Suns (42-18) can clinch a spot with a win Monday and a loss by the San Antonio Spurs (30-29) against the Washington Wizards.
With Sunday’s loss, the Suns remained in a virtual tie for second in the West with the Los Angeles Clippers (43-19), two games behind the Utah Jazz. But the loss to the Eastern Conference-leading Nets provided Phoenix a glimpse at what it needs to do to cement itself as an NBA Finals contender.
“When we get a lead, we’ve got to learn how to play better with the lead and just learn how to keep and stay composed,” Suns forward Torrey Craig said. “Credit to those guys. They made shots the whole game. They were the better team tonight.”
Phoenix coach Monty Williams admitted his team has sweated out its last few contests.
“Like, these last three games have been playoff games for us in atmosphere, so I think they’re great,” Williams said. “Your armpits and underwear may tell you a different story at the end of the game, but as far as growth is concerned it’s pretty good for our team and our young guys.”
–Field Level Media
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