Rewind. The last time these teams met on December 18, Giannis Antetokounmpo was making his starting debut, the Bucks were showing some signs of life and the Knicks were thrashing around just two games ahead of Milwaukee in the Eastern standings (7-17 vs. 5-19). In the end the Knicks came away with a 107-101 double-overtime win, overcoming Brandon Knight's then-career-high 36 points and some woeful J.R. Smith decision-making in the process.
Since then New York has been up and down...and then some. A five-game winning streak in early January, followed by a five-game losing streak, followed by a four-game winning streak that was snapped on Saturday in Miami. All told, the Knicks find themselves "just" one game back of the Bobcats for the eighth and final playoff spot and two games adrift of their crosstown rivals in Brooklyn. Carmelo Anthony has not surprisingly been the focal point of the Knicks' adventurous month, scoring an NBA season-best 62 points against the Bobcats ten days ago and averaged 28.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg and 3.4 apg on .452/.494/.841 shooting for the month. He's good.
But the now-familiar cries of "Goddammit, J.R.!" have been heard with less frequency over the past two weeks -- from teammates and from fans.. Believe it or not, over his past eight games, Smith's numbers look downright good.
Why eight games? Because that is the number of games Smith has played since he was benched against the Miami Heat. In the four games leading up to the benching, Smith was shooting at an embarrassing 31.3 FG%/ 18.8 3P% clip (and all four of those games were with Carmelo Anthony back in the lineup).
Still, you can't blame Knicks fans for being more enamored with their other high-flying shooting guard. No, not Iman Shumpert--he's missed two straight due to a shoulder injury and is questionable tonight, and even a healthy-ish Shumpert hasn't resembled the guy that Knicks fans fell in love with a couple years ago.
No, the man I'm talking about is rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. The bigger, more athletic son of all-star point guard Tim Sr. has scored in double-figures five straight times including a career-best 29 against the Cavaliers last week and 17 against the Heat on Saturday. He's been coming off the bench, but don't be surprised to see him closing out the game tonight--whether it's close or not.
BUCKS BUCKS BUCKS. They may not have come away victorious in Memphis on Saturday night, but the Bucks actually accomplished something that they hadn't done once in the month of January: they led at halftime. I won't pretend that this is evidence of the Bucks "putting things together" or "not being terrible," but it is nice when your favorite basketball team doesn't disintegrate at the opening tip, right?
As for tonight, the small backcourt that we've seen from the Bucks the last two games makes more sense on nights like these: the Knicks figure to start a pair of point guards (Felton/Prigioni) and a shooting guard at small forward (J.R.), which makes the Knight/Wolters/Middleton trio a fairly logical combination. Then again, that assumes that you think matchups and stuff actually matter anymore. Sorry, that was super cynical but...well, 8-39 you know?
The Antetokounmpos have landed! Now this is cool and adorable and not worth of cynicism:
Giannis Antetokounmpo's parents will watch him play in the NBA for the first time in person tonight. They arrived in town yesterday. #Bucks
You may recall Giannis had hoped to move his family here before the season started--there was talk of the older of his two younger brothers enrolling at Dominican to play basketball--but it didn't happen due to visa issues.
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