Knicks clinch No. 2 seed; Sixers to host Heat in play-in

ByTim Bontemps ESPN logo
Monday, April 15, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- Long after the 76ers emerged with a comfortable 107-86 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in their season finale Sunday at Wells Fargo Center, most of Philadelphia's roster was standing in the locker room watching the final moments of the New York Knicks-Chicago Bulls game 100 miles up Interstate 95.

If New York won, it would clinch the second seed in the Eastern Conference and be Philadelphia's potential first-round opponent next weekend. If Chicago won, the Knicks would be the third seed, and the Milwaukee Bucks would get the second seed.

Ultimately, the Knicks escaped with a thrilling 120-119 overtime victory after Chicago forwardDeMar DeRozan's potential game-winning jumper went wanting. The 76ers -- relegated to the play-in tournament close to an hour earlier by the Orlando Magic's 113-88 victory over the Bucks -- will shift their focus to Wednesday's Nos. 7-8 play-in game at home against the Miami Heat.

"Obviously, we've had some great battles with them, and we always expect that facing them," 76ers coach Nick Nurse said after Sunday's win of the prospect of matchup up with Miami. "The mindset is we're playing well and do everything we can, like we've been doing the last month of the year ... digging in and playing our guys and doing whatever we have to, whatever we got to do to win.

"We've got a good mindset, and we'll take that into Wednesday."

While Philadelphia ultimately finished in a tie with both the Magic and theIndiana Pacers, who walloped the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, Orlando earned the fifth seed by winning the Southeast Division, the three-way tiebreaker.

Indiana then claimed the head-to-head tiebreaker with Philadelphia thanks to winning the season series 2-1 and thus got the sixth seed and a matchup with the Bucks in the first round.

That relegated Philadelphia to seventh place, where the 76ers finished despite ripping off eight straight wins to end the season. They will entertain the Heat after Miami won a second straight game against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday to close out in eighth place.

It was a wild day of results around the Eastern Conference.

The Cleveland Cavaliers seemingly went out of their way to ensure that they were the fourth seed by using their end-of-bench players down the stretch and losing to the hapless Charlotte Hornets, who had basically their entire rotation ruled out before the game. The Hornets outscored Cleveland 32-14 in the fourth quarter.

"Yeah, I mean we were trying," Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff told reporters after the game. "Again, in live time, it's hard to get all that information. We were aware as some of that stuff was going on.

"But once we sat our guys at the end of the third quarter and they had the mindset of not going back in, I didn't want to take any risks of putting them back into the game. When everyone had already cooled down and then something else happens."

"So, you are always aware of it, you are always taking a peek at it," he continued, "but I thought the safety of our guys was the most important thing. When they were shut off, I didn't want to have and ramp them back up to put them late in the fourth quarter when something worse could happen to them. That's what we stuck with."

The loss by Cleveland ensured that the Cavaliers would finish fourth in the conference standings. If the Cavs had won, they would have secured the No. 3 seed by owning the tiebreaker over the Bucks.

Both the Cavs and Bucks losing meant the Knicks would wind up as the second seed with a win. New York's game with the Bulls went down to the overtime buzzer at Madison Square Garden, with Chicago -- despite having nothing to play for -- giving the Knicks everything it had before New York finally was able to come out on top.

Four players on both teams played at least 40 minutes, while Donte DiVincenzo was active in all but 29 seconds for New York.

Now, though, DiVincenzo and the Knicks will get a week off to rest and will watch Wednesday's game in Philadelphia to see who they'll face in the first round of the playoffs. The Heat-Sixers loser then will host the Hawks-Bulls winner on Friday for the right to face the top-seeded Boston Celtics in the first round.

The lingering question going into the 7-8 play-in game is the health of the 76ers, especially that of reigning MVP Joel Embiid, who sat out Sunday's game in what sources told ESPN before the game was a precautionary measure.

Nurse said Embiid will be prepared to play Wednesday.

"He did everything at practice yesterday," Nurse said after Sunday's game, "but we decided out of caution to hold him out.

"He'll be ready to go."

Philly'sRobert Covington, however, will not be, as Nurse said the veteran forward is unlikely to return this season because of a bone bruise in his left knee. The coach also said De'Anthony Melton, who has dealt with back issues for most of 2024, is trending toward not being available, either.

Related Video