On the Knicks: Posting and Toasting / Knickerblogger / New York Times / New York Daily News
Having spent much of the season battling for the eighth spot, the Bucks and Knicks face off for the last time this season with the winner taking the inside track for the East's kinda-coveted final playoff seed.
New York by one. The Knicks enter the game on a back-to-back, having lost 98-86 to the Derrick Rose-less Bulls in Chicago on Tuesday. The loss reduced New York's lead over the Bucks to one game and was perhaps an inevitable let-down after Carmelo Anthony's 43 points led a stunning comeback win over the Bulls at MSG on Sunday. A Milwaukee win would bring the teams even record-wise, but the Bucks would claim the tiebreaker in that scenario by virtue of a better head-to-head record (they're ahead 2-1 so far).
Meanwhile, a Knick win would extend New York's lead to two games and even the teams' head-to-head record at 2-2, making conference record the next tiebreaker. The Knicks hold a slim lead there: 22-18 vs. 21-18. If they were even there then the tiebreaker would become record against the other Eastern playoff teams. Hint: the Bucks really need to win this game.
Both teams will have eight games remaining after tonight, with an even split between home and road games. The Knicks get a relatively tough home stretch against the Heat, Celtics, Clippers and Wizards plus an easier road schedule against the Bobcats, Nets, Cavs and Hawks. The Bucks on the other hand get the Pacers, Nets, Raptors and Sixers at home plus the Pistons, Pacers, Wizards and Celtics on the road. Speaking of Philly, they have the toughest finish with seven of nine on the road.
Walk it off. Two days after reaching the .500 mark for the first time since January 2, the Bucks suffered a serious let-down against Oklahoma City on Monday, offering little resistance against the Western-leading Thunder and trailing by double digits virtually from the outset. It was an all-too-predictable result for Scott Skiles' team, which has won 13 straight games against sub-.500 teams but has managed just a 3-12 record against winning teams since February 15. So how can the Bucks beat the Knicks for a third time in four games? Scott Skiles has some ideas:
"They do a good job of pressuring the ball," Skiles said. "You've got to beat people off the dribble if they're up into you. We've got to beat them with the pass. They'll do a lot of switching (screens).
"We just have to keep the ball moving; we've got to play our game. We can't let a team put us back on our heels. That's what professional basketball is. You've got to play through that stuff."
One-on-one. In terms of starting matchups, two obvious ones jump off the page: Ersan Ilyasova vs. small-ball PF Carmelo Anthony and rookie Iman Shumpert vs. Monta Ellis. Anthony has been starting at power forward in Amare Stoudemire's absence and presents an obvious issue in a one-on-one situation against the slower-footed Ilyasova, so don't expect to see Ersan matched up with Melo for any extended periods. Carlos Delfino has typically drawn the assignment of checking Anthony in the past, though Luc Mbah a Moute is the most capable of hanging with Carmelo--then again, you can say that about basically every opponent between 6'4" and 6'11". Luc has of course been battling knee tendinitis and looked a bit gimpy against the Thunder, but as of this morning the Bucks expected everyone to be available against New York.
On the other side, rookie Iman Shumpert has quickly developed into the Knicks' designated perimeter stopper and will again draw the task of containing Ellis, who had his worst game as a Buck (2/14 fg, 4 pts) in the teams' last meeting. Ellis' struggles that night were further magnified by Brandon Jennings' similarly wayward shooting (6/22 fg), which represented something of a departure from the strong performances we're used to seeing from Jennings at MSG.
Brandon. Overall, sharing the ball with Ellis has meant fewer shots for Jennings, but it's also translated (perhaps not surprisingly) into more consistent shooting: Jennings has made at least 40% of his field goals in 12 of 14 games since the Ellis trade (45.4%), while not coincidentally taking 17 shots or fewer in 12 of those 14 games. In case you're wondering, he averages right around 17 shots for the season.
While his true shooting remains an unimpressive 51.1%, Jennings has at least shown demonstrable improvement each season: his TS% has risen from 47.5% to 49.3% to 51.1% while his raw fg% has risen from 37.1% to 39.0% to 41.8% this season. Glass half full!