The Bucks hope to win their first road game of the season--for the ninth time, unfortunately--when they visit Madison Square Garden and the struggling Knicks on Friday night.
Update: Stephen Jackson has been suspended for tonight's game after reportedly missing the bus to the shootaround this morning, per Charles Gardner of JS Online. Mike Dunleavy is now also expected to make an earlier-than-expected return from the groin injury which has sidelined him for the last three weeks.
Struggling Knicks, struggling Bucks. Ah yes, the something's gotta give! game. While we're all well aware of the Bucks' unfortunate road consistency, the struggles of the star-powered Knicks are naturally attracting more attention. The particulars: New York has dropped four straight, they're under .500 since Carmelo Anthony arrived, and Amare Stoudemire has looked nothing like the dominant offensive force we saw a year ago in Gotham.
Anthony is still putting up big numbers, but Bradford Doolittle writes that the Knicks have struggled to score without a true point guard helming the offense. Rookie Iman Shumpert (starting but more of a SG), Toney Douglas, and Mike Bibby have struggled setting up Stoudemire in P&R, leading the Knicks to increasingly rely on thus-far-ineffective isolation sets.
Brandon Jennings averaged 20.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 5.3 apg as the Bucks won three of four meetings between the teams last season, and the Bucks have won five of their last six at MSG, the only loss coming last year in Anthony's New York debut. However, it's hardly been smooth sailing for Melo and the Knicks since then, as New York has lost 22 games and won just 19 since Anthony's debut win. To make matters worse, Denver has cruised to a terrific 28-12 mark in the same span, and the pressure will no doubt be on Anthony when the two teams face off in New York on Saturday night.
Injuries. The continued absence of Baron Davis (herniated disk) has forced athletic combo guard Iman Shumpert into the Knicks' starting lineup, though Anthony is expected to play tonight despite a family issue that caused him to leave the locker room without speaking to reporters after Wednesday's loss.
The news is better for the Bucks, who are still missing Mike Dunleavy but will have Luc Mbah a Moute available for what would be just his second game of the season. Mbah a Moute was also available on Tuesday, but Skiles opted against playing him due to a lack of practice time.
The D in D'Antoni. The Knicks are losing and it's in spite of their defense? Strange, but true. Zach Lowe at SI details the curious reversal for Mike D'Antoni's team:
They are improvising like mad, changing their basic principles on a night-to-night and sometimes quarter-to-quarter basis, but it's working. New York is 10th in points allowed per possession, a monster improvement from 23rd last season. They rank second in defensive rebounding rate after finishing 26th last season. Tyson Chandler has a lot to do with that, but New York is getting nice work on the boards from Amar'e Stoudemire (by his standards), Anthony (always a good rebounder), Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert and others.
You can tell almost the inverse story with the Bucks, who have seen the formidable defense of the past two seasons regularly torn apart so far this season. Milwaukee ranks in the league's bottom third in eFG% allowed (21st), defensive rebounding (23rd), and free throw rate allowed (26th), more than offsetting good numbers in turnovers forced (7th). Charles Gardner writes that Scott Skiles has been particularly displeased with the Bucks' defense at the point of the attack, which won't surprise anyone who saw the Bucks' performance against Denver. The Nuggets' guards easily drove past Bucks defenders much of the night, forcing help that left open shooters time and again.
"What we challenge our guys to do from the first day of camp is guard your guy for three dribbles. If you can do that, we'll get the help there.
"You can't be expected to guard some of these guys when they have such dribble moves. But we're just getting blown right by, not even one (dribble), just straight-line driving. It's something we have to address."
Running smart. The Bucks' loss to Denver offered a great example of how to run effectively: Denver leads the league in pace, but more importantly the Nuggets also lead the league in fast break points, points in the paint and points off turnovers. More often than not, Denver games are fast-paced because the Nuggets are the ones running and gunning--off turnovers, off rebounds, and as the Bucks saw, even off made baskets. Meanwhile, the Knicks have played at a fast pace but it hasn't translated into productivity. New York ranks just 23rd in offensive efficiency, and tellingly sits just 19th in fast break points per game (11.8, behind the 12th-ranked Bucks' 12.9) and 26th in points in the paint.