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Knicks vs. Bucks Preview | Tyson Chandler returns and Giannis will start (!) as the Knicks look to avoid a new low in Milwaukee

The return of the Knicks' defensive anchor is understandably big news for the struggling Knicks, but the Bucks may also have a big (well, long) addition to the starting five tonight.

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Al Bello
2013/14 NBA Season
(5-19, 2-10 home)
(7-17, 3-8 road)
December 18, 2013
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:00 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ / Audio League Pass
Probable Starters
Brandon Knight PG Beno Udrih
Giannis Antetokounmpo SG J.R. Smith
Khris Middleton SF Iman Shumpert
Ersan Ilyasova PF Carmelo Anthony
John Henson C Tyson Chandler
2012/13 Advanced Stats
91.2 (27th) Pace 90.1 (29th)
97.2 (30th) ORtg 104.4 (18th)
106.8 (22nd) DRtg 108.2 (27th)

Linkage: Posting And Toasting | Knickerblogger | Buckets Over Broadway | Bucks Game Notes | Knicks Game Notes

UPDATE: O.J. Mayo is not with the team for personal reasons (attending his grandmother's funeral) which means Giannis Antetokounmpo moves into the starting lineup (!). The Bucks are saying he'll start at shooting guard, though that may be more for optics, keeping Middleton as the nominal starting small forward. The other  wrinkle is that Ersan Ilyasova most definitely can't guard Carmelo Anthony, so Middleton will likely be the first to draw Melo while Giannis and Ersan defend the Knicks' wings. Remember that Ilyasova has often drawn Iman Shumpert in prior matchups.

Knicks update. The Bucks stink. The Knicks stink. But hey, at least the Bucks didn't trade away their 2014 first round pick, eh?


Which brings us to the Knicks. Monday's 102-101 home loss to the Wizards featured all kinds of late-game Knick incompetence, which has only accelerated the already-crowded "kick Mike Woodson to the curb" bandwagon. New York's defense looked in disarray on Bradley Beal's driving layup with five seconds remaining, only to be outdone by what happened next. Despite having three timeouts, the Knicks called no timeout. OK, maybe they wanted to catch the Wizards before they had time to setup or something. OK, maybe.

Except Carmelo Anthony then took the inbounds and inexplicably slowed down near midcourt with the final seconds ticking down. Was he about to take a knee? Did he have money riding on the Wiz? Unclear. He finally had his "Oh sh**" moment and tried to motor down the court again, only to launch an ugly three-point heave that predictably bricked at the horn. It was a different kind of terrible, but I couldn't help but think back to that Pistons/Bucks game last year when Brandon Jennings launched a double-pump 35-footer with three seconds still on the clock. Yikes.

The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring summarized the "fire Woodson" argument yesterday in his story that, quite directly, called for the Knicks to fire Woodson. Among the highlights:

For all the roster's flaws, it is talented enough to win when it launches three-pointers and forces turnovers. But Woodson, citing bigger, stronger opponents this season, has said smaller lineups are a last resort, as if the team isn't already fighting to stay relevant. And he's continued the Knicks' costly switching strategy on defense, even though it doesn't fit the team's slow-footed personnel.

It's not that all is necessarily lost for the Knicks of course. Tyson Chandler's six-week absence with a broken leg has been a huge part of the issue on the defensive end, and for all their struggles the Knicks are "only" three games behind the Raptors for the final playoff spot in the East. The big news tonight is the return of Chandler, which should deliver a serious shot in the arm regardless of any minute restrictions he might be on.

Melo and the rest. While Anthony's season has been overshadowed at times by talk of his potential departure as a free agent, he's still a monster (26.3 ppg, career-best 9.1 rpg, career-low 8.9% turnover rate) whose efficiency numbers (24.3 PER, 0.169 WS/48) are barely off the career-best numbers he posted a year ago.

Aside from Anthony, rookie Tim Hardaway has shot well and Pablo Prigioni's harassing defense and shot-making (60% true shooting) have also been clear positives. Naturally Prigioni broke his toe on Monday and is now out two weeks, but that's the way it goes in Knicks land these days. And everyone else? Yeah, not doing so hot. Ray Felton (out with hamstring issues), Metta World Peace and perennial potential-guy Iman Shumpert are all shooting sub-40%, which depending on your perspective either reaffirms their "overrated" status or means the Knicks should get better when they come around. I'd argue a bit of both.

And then there's J.R. Smith, whose return from *secret* offseason knee surgery has seen him shoot an eye-watering 33.6%. Andrea Bargnani and The Artist Formerly Known as Amare Stoudemire have posted better numbers, but only when you're grading on the curve that is Andrea Bargnani and The Artist Formerly Known as Amare Stoudemire.

All of which is to say that New York is 7-17 for a bunch of reasons. They're unlikely to stick around the bottom of the East forever--namely because of Chandler--but owner James Dolan's preseason championship delusions are little more than laughable memories at this point. Think of it as Herb Kohl's playoff aspirations, only blown up to Big Apple-proportions.

Bucks starters. Larry Drew opened the "OMG COULD GIANNIS START???" can of worms on Saturday following the Bucks' latest listless effort, suggesting the Bucks needed more energy from their starting five (sure!), so that figures to be the main talking point leading up to today's game. Hell, it was even deemed Woj-bomb-worthy:

I'm not sure the starting question matters that much from a development standpoint, as the real issue at this point is simply minutes, not starting itself. But it'd be difficult to deny the symbolic importance of throwing Milwaukee's favorite 19-year-old into the fire. Fans would of course love it from an entertainment standpoint, and it would underscore Drew's assertion that Antetokounmpo is now a part of the rotation, not simply a guy filling in for injures played. You could argue it's also a signal of the Bucks embracing the reality of a lost season in the standings, but that would ignore a fact that's obvious to anyone who's seen the Bucks this year: Giannis has earned every minute he's played and then some. He'll make mistakes, but he's not the one costing the Bucks wins at this point.

Still, there are also good arguments for continuing to use him as a reserve, especially tonight: giving him burn against second units lowers the likelihood of him getting beat up by Anthony in particular, and psychologically it just seems like less pressure. What if he starts and plays poorly? Then putting him back on the bench seems like a demotion. Ultimately I'm not that worried about his ability to handle pressure, and in general it'd be an encouraging statement about where Giannis is that the Bucks would start him just 25 games into his young career. But it's also less important than keeping him in the regular rotation period.

Speaking of rotations, the Bucks will once again have a limited one, which means Giannis will play plenty no matter who starts. Via Charles Gardner:

Only nine players participated in practice sessions on Monday and Tuesday, and Ersan Ilyasova and Khris Middleton were limited due to ankle injuries. O.J. Mayo was absent due to his grandmother's funeral in West Virginia.

Caron Butler (swollen knee) was on the court but did not practice and Gary Neal (left foot plantar fasciitis) worked on the exercise bike on the side.

"We've had two straight days of not having 10 guys," Drew said. "We were nine today.

"We'll have to see how guys are. I don't know what Gary's situation will be tomorrow. Both Khris and Ersan did participate in some things today, so I'm hoping they'll be OK by tomorrow."