Hawks, Knicks battle for fourth spot in East

Late-season matchups between the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks aren’t rare. But it’s been a long time since the Eastern Conference foes were battling one another for playoff seeding instead of draft positioning.

Fourth place in the East will be on the line Wednesday night when the Knicks host the Hawks in a matchup of two of the NBAs biggest surprises.

Both teams will be playing the second game of a back-to-back set after earning home wins Tuesday. The Knicks allowed just 31 second-half points in beating the Charlotte Hornets 109-97, and the Hawks raced to a 17-point halftime lead in defeating the Orlando Magic 112-96.

The win was the seventh straight for the Knicks (32-27), who moved past the idle Boston Celtics into fifth place in the Eastern Conference — just a half-game behind the fourth-place Hawks (32-26), who have won five of their past six games and nine of 11.

With only six teams guaranteed playoff spots in each conference this season, the margin remains slim for the Knicks and Hawks. New York, which is in the midst of its longest winning streak since it won eight straight in March 2014, is just 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-place Miami Heat, who would be relegated to the four-team play-in tournament if the postseason began today.

Still, trying to avoid a play-in certainly beats the recent alternative for the Knicks and Hawks, both of whom finished among the bottom five in the Eastern Conference in each of the previous three seasons, a span in which they’ve finished a combined 181 games under .500.

The Knicks and Hawks haven’t made the playoffs in the same season since 2012-13, when New York finished second in the East with a 54-28 record and Atlanta was sixth at 44-38.

It remains the most recent playoff berth for the Knicks.

“We’re locked in what we need to do night-to-night,” said Knicks forward Julius Randle, who finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists Tuesday night against Charlotte. “Let’s make it eight.”

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The game Wednesday will provide both squads a chance to find how out they measure up against a fellow top-six team.

The Knicks’ winning streak includes a 111-96 victory over the West No. 5 Lakers on April 12. The Hawks beat the Lakers 99-94 on March 20.

“Every win is a confidence-booster,” Hawks forward John Collins said after collecting 11 points and 15 rebounds Tuesday night. “We just want to continue to stack up as many wins as possible going into the postseason.”

–Field Level Media

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