After all but locking up a playoff berth on Wednesday night, the New York Knicks will get a glimpse of their potential first-round opponent on Friday night.
They can only hope they’ll also see Julius Randle in uniform.
The Knicks may be without Randle as they look to officially clinch a playoff spot Friday night, when New York is slated to visit the Cleveland Cavaliers in a possible postseason preview.
The Knicks were off Thursday after making their path to the playoffs much clearer Wednesday night, when they pulled away for a 101-92 win over the visiting Miami Heat. The Cavaliers haven’t played since Tuesday, when their four-game winning streak ended with a 120-118 loss to the host Atlanta Hawks.
The win over the Heat looked up a pivotal playoff tiebreaker for the Knicks (44-33) and reduced their magic number to one for clinching a top-six finish and a spot in the main playoff bracket. New York is four games ahead of seventh-place Miami (40-37) but won the season series 3-1.
But the victory may have been costly for the Knicks, who played the final 26-plus minutes without Randle after the power forward sprained his left ankle while landing on the foot of Heat forward Bam Adebayo. Randle, who was fouled on the play near the end of the second quarter, hit one of two free throws before limping off the floor.
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said Randle — who is averaging 25.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game — would be reevaluated on Thursday.
“Injuries, they happen, and the thing that we have to understand is when you have a guy who’s averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds and five assists and doing the things that he’s doing, you’re not replacing him with an individual player,” Thibodeau said. “But what we can do is we can play great defense. We can rebound the ball great. We can take care of the ball. We know if we do those three things great, we can be in position to win.”
The Knicks are four games behind the fourth-place Cavaliers (48-29), who are 2 1/2 games behind the third-place Philadelphia 76ers. Cleveland, already assured of a spot in the main playoff bracket for the first time since 2018, will lock up no worse than the no. 4 seed with a win on Friday.
Donovan Mitchell nearly led the undermanned Cavaliers to victory on Tuesday when he scored 44 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, as Cleveland overcame a 10-point deficit to take a trio of short-lived leads.
Mitchell missed a potential go-ahead 3-pointer with 12 seconds left before his desperation heave from just inside halfcourt bounced off the back rim. He was one of four starters to play at least 40 minutes for Cleveland, which was without Jarrett Allen (right groin) and Isaac Okoro (left knee).
“We were struggling a little bit, we’re down and he felt the moment, what was needed,” Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “He was aggressive. He was making play after play. I thought we got enough stops late to bring ourselves back into the game, obviously, but we came up a little short.”
–Field Level Media