NEW YORK — The Milwaukee Bucks' remarkable turnaround is nearly complete.
Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to the lineup with 23 points and moved the Bucks to the verge of a playoff spot with a 99-91 victory over the New York Knicks on Friday night.
The Bucks lowered their magic number to one for clinching a playoff berth, just a year after they finished with an NBA-worst 15-67 record. They would have secured a place in the postseason with losses by either Boston, Brooklyn or Indiana, but all three won Friday.
"Yeah, that's what we heard when we came back into the locker room," guard Michael Carter-Williams said. "Everyone's fighting. That's the game and knowing it's not going to be easy, we've just got to keep fighting and playing until the end."
The Bucks can wrap up their spot Sunday at home against the Nets, the team Jason Kidd led to the playoffs last season before taking over the young Bucks.
Antetokounmpo, who had played in every game this season and started most of them before Kidd surprisingly chose to sit him in Wednesday's 104-99 loss to Cleveland, added nine rebounds. He left without speaking to reporters.
"I thought he responded in a positive way," Kidd said. "I thought he played a great game. Michael played a great game. Those two guys definitely helped us win."
Khris Middleton had 22 points for the Bucks, who snapped a two-game skid. Carter-Williams finished with 19 points as Milwaukee swept a four-game season series from the Knicks for the first time since 1990-91.
Langston Galloway scored 20 points and Lance Thomas added 16 for the Knicks, who are closing in on following the Bucks as the NBA's worst team.
"Just try to go out there and just play hard," Galloway said. "That's what everybody's out here doing now and that's what we're going to continue to do is just play hard and try to get wins, regardless of our record."
Despite a young roster, Kidd said the players set a lofty goal of making the playoffs, one they are close to achieving even after losing No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker when he tore his left ACL in December.
Milwaukee can become the first NBA team to make the playoffs a season after finishing with the worst record since the 2008-09 Miami Heat, who also were 15-67 in 2007-08.
Antetokounmpo didn't take long to show his joy in being back on the court. He grabbed an early defensive rebound, glided up the court and threw down a powerful and mostly uncontested dunk when Cole Aldrich smartly moved out of the way rather than get run over.
Like a Bucks' slogan says: Fear the Deer.
Antetokounmpo then scored 11 points in the third quarter when the Bucks put away the game, capping their 29-point period by banking in a floater to beat the buzzer.
Bucks: Milwaukee did sweep the Knicks in the 2009-10 season, but the teams met only three times. ... The Bucks would be the 10th team to go from worst record to playoffs in one season, according to STATS.
Knicks: Andrea Bargnani, the Knicks' leading scorer in the absence of Carmelo Anthony, sat out with an illness. ... Starting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. bruised his right wrist in the first half. X-rays were negative and he returned to the game, finishing with seven points.
Kidd's former team is just two games back of the Bucks in a tie for seventh heading into Sunday's game. "They've got guys who have been in this position before. They're veterans. They know how to play," Kidd said. "I'm not surprised they're playing well and, again, this is a big game for them coming up. For both teams, we're fighting for a playoff spot."
Bucks: host Brooklyn on Sunday.
Knicks: visit Orlando on Saturday.