Isaiah Hartenstein Credit: Bill Moore photo

The Knicks came close to acquiring local product Donovan Mitchell, a 26-year-old four-time All-Star, from the Utah Jazz late last summer. Now they’ll face the Elmsford, New York, native in the first round of the playoffs in a little over a week.

When the NBA schedule began last night, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who parted with three first-round draft picks and three players last September to obtain Mitchell, had clinched the No. 4 postseason seed in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks, who took a four-game winning streak into Indiana to play the Pacers last night, went in as a near certainty to be the No. 5 seed. They were 46–33 and three games up on the 43–36 Brooklyn Nets with just three games—now two—left for both teams.

The 46 wins were the most for the Knicks since the 2012–’13 campaign, when they ended the regular season 54–28 under former head coach Mike Woodson. That team, led by Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, lost to the Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals 4–2.

The Knicks have a reasonable chance to defeat the Cavaliers in their imminent best-of-seven series that will open in Cleveland—contingent on the health of their All-Star forward Julius Randle. The Knicks have fared well with Randle recovering from an ankle sprain sustained on March 29 at Madison Square Garden in a 101–92 win over the Miami Heat. Randle, who leads the Knicks in points (25.1) and rebounds (10), will be out until at least the start of the playoffs. As of today, it is uncertain whether he will be ready to return for Game 1 of the series versus the Cavaliers.

Without Randle being able to perform at a level close to what he has this season, the Knicks’ prospects of getting by the Cavaliers are dubious.

The playoffs begin on April 15. The schedule will be released by the NBA next week after the regular season concludes this Sunday. The Play-In Tournament, composed of the No. 7 through No. 10 seeds from the Eastern and Western Conferences, will take place next Tuesday through Friday.

While the status of Randle remains inconclusive, the Knicks have been encouraged by the play of, among others, point guard Jalen Brunson, who has shown he isn’t significantly hampered by a right hand injury and sore left foot, both having caused him to miss eight of the Knicks’ previous 12 games before the March 29 win over the Heat. Brunson scored a career high 48 points in a 130–116 road win over the Cavaliers last Friday and team-high 118–109 victory against the Washington Wizards at home on Sunday.

In addition, guard Immanuel Quickley, who will garner strong consideration from voters for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, has continued his exceptional play, while guard Quentin Grimes and center Isaiah Hartenstein have been standouts for the Knicks down the stretch of this season.

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