Knicks, in tight East seeding battle, meet Nets

A surge by Jalen Brunson is creating a weekend of varied playoff scenarios for the New York Knicks.

Brunson is heating up heading into the final weekend of the regular season, and the Knicks still have a shot at landing the second seed in the Eastern Conference as they prepare for a Friday night home game against the Brooklyn Nets.

Brunson scored 39 points in 30 minutes on Thursday as the Knicks led by as many as 31 points and recorded a 118-109 road victory over the Boston Celtics. New York (48-32) heads into its final two regular-season games with three straight wins and four victories in the past five games.

During that five-game span, Brunson is averaging 39.4 points and shooting 54.3 percent (69-for-127) from the field after sinking 15 of 23 shots against the Celtics.

“It’s special,” New York forward OG Anunoby said of Brunson, who has scored at least 30 points in 34 games this season, including 10 games with 40-plus points. “The way he plays, the things he can do, it’s definitely special. He’s one of the best in the league.”

Brunson had plenty of help on Thursday, when the Knicks led 69-48 by halftime. Donte DiVincenzo finished with 17 points and Josh Hart collected 16 points and 16 rebounds, helping the Knicks control the glass 52-36.

Because of Brunson’s well-timed surge, the third-place Knicks are one game behind second-place Milwaukee (49-31) in the conference. Since the Bucks won the season series to claim the tiebreaker, the Knicks need two wins and two Milwaukee losses to move into second.

The Bucks will close the regular season with road games against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday and the Orlando Magic on Sunday. New York will finish at home against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.

Milwaukee is not the only team the Knicks are jostling with. New York is one game ahead of the fourth-place Cleveland Cavaliers (47-33) and two ahead of the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers, both 46-34. The Knicks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with Cleveland but lost the season series to Indiana and Orlando.

Brunson was held to 17 points in the last meeting with Brooklyn, but the Knicks got 31 from DiVincenzo along with 26 from Miles McBride in a 105-93 home win on March 23.

Brooklyn (32-48) has lost its past five meetings with the Knicks, and the previous matchup was the final contest of a six-game overall losing streak.

Since then, the Nets are a respectable 6-3, and they can spoil some seeding by ending their skid against the Knicks and winning their regular-season finale Sunday at Philadelphia.

Brooklyn finished a 3-1 homestand Wednesday night by earning a 106-102 win over the Toronto Raptors.

The Nets continue to give their younger players extended minutes. Though Cam Thomas led the team with 23 points Wednesday and Dennis Schroder added 21, rookie Noah Clowney played a game-high 39 minutes. Clowney started and contributed 10 points, seven rebounds and a career-high seven blocks.

“We’ve just got to keep building. I think just keep playing the right way, keep playing hard,” Brooklyn’s Mikal Bridges said earlier this week. “Around this time, especially when you’re away from the playoffs, it can get selfish and you just kind of got to get off that hump and continue to play together because obviously there’s no playoffs or anything, but it’s just building to next year.”

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