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Bucks vs. Knicks Preview: Teams headed in opposite directions meet in Milwaukee

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The defense struggles of the Milwaukee Bucks are well know by now. What's newly-worrisome is that Milwaukee is working on a five-game streak of undercutting their offensive efficiency average, seeing them fall all the way to 24th in the NBA in offensive rating. They'll try to get something working when they host the New York Knicks tonight in the second game of back-to-backs for both teams. The Knicks are looking for their third-straight victory, while Milwaukee is trying to avoid their fourth three-game losing streak of the season.

Bucks Update

Beginning with the double-overtime win over Cleveland back on November 14, the Bucks have establish a depressing pattern. One encouraging win followed by three rough losses. Another defeat tonight would make it three consecutive spins on the Misery-Go-Round.

Working in their advantage is some modest improvement on the defensive end of the floor. Over the last four games, Milwaukee's defensive rating is a solid 97.3, though that number is heavily influenced by the suffocating performance Milwaukee put up against Denver Monday night. Key to that improvement has been solid work on the defensive glass: the Bucks have grabbed at least 75% of available defensive rebounds in all four games and over 80% in two. Problem is, those gains have been negated by problems popping up on the other end. Milwaukee's scoring efficiency has tanked to from 54.4% true shooting in their first 16 games to just 48% in the last four. Their offensive rebounding rate has taken a similar slide.

Finding consistency has been a struggle all season long, evidenced by periodic lineup changes and uneven individual performances. And both of those symptoms are sure to be implicated again tonight, as the point-guard position for Milwaukee gets thrust back into the harsh spotlight thanks to a plethora of injuries. With Bayless, Vasquez, and Ennis all on the shelf, expect to see a return to the starting lineup for Michael Carter-Williams, who hasn't exactly been setting the world on fire since his move to a reserve role. Alternatives are sparse: O.J. Mayo might see a few minutes at the point, or the Bucks could really get wild and run Giannis Antetokounmpo out there as the primary ballhandler and see what happens. Hint: zaniness.

Knicks Scouting Report

So, New York, you've won two straight, huh? And which teams have you beaten? Philadelphia and Brooklyn? Hmmm. And what happened in the four games before that? Four straight losses by an average of 12 points per game? Right.

Who am I kidding, I nor anybody else regularly reading this site has any real grounds to poke fun at the Knicks right now. New York is enjoying the same sort of unexpected roller-coaster thrill ride as Milwaukee experienced last season, with rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingins sitting in the front seat waving his absurdly long arms in delight.

Consistency has been the big issue for New York as well: they've topped 111 offensive ratings in two of their last three, but fell to Houston in overtime in one of those games. Against Brooklyn last night, New York put together about as complete a game as they have all year, trouncing the Nets by 17 in a game that was barely close after the first quarter. Yesterday also saw the "return" of Carmelo Anthony, Superstar--Melo hit five triples en route to 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals. Porzingis added 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks, while Jose Calderon embraced the "pure" point guard standard to the max (10 assists, 1 point).

The road team has won each of the last two matchups in this season series, with New York blowing out Milwaukee in the season opener only to see the Bucks exact revenge in a 99-92 victory ten days later.

Daily Fantasy Tip

I keep coming back to Khris Middleton. Consistency is nice, but it doesn't cut it for fantasy when the level of consistency isn't much better than average. However, Middleton has pretty handily outplayed his salary tier in four of the last last five games, with the biggest limiter on his performance being shot volume. At a certain point the Bucks simply have to recognize that getting more three-point attempts for Khris is a must, and with the lineup funkification we're likely to see tonight, a little more deference to the best tried-and-true shooter on the team is certainly warranted.

Sticking with anecdotal evidence, I've had some luck running Kristaps Porzingis out this season, but he's becoming harder to love as his salary continues to climb. With another 40-plus-point game last night, Kristaps is in the company of elite players for daily fantasy purposes. Like I said above, the Bucks have been playing better on defense lately, particularly on the glass, so there's a few reasons to be skeptical.

SB Nation's partner FanDuel is running a FREE money fantasy basketball league for new members tonight. Half of the league wins cash. Join now!

(Editor's Note: all the opinions expressed here are my own. FanDuel gave me some cash to play daily fantasy games)

On the Knicks: Poasting and ToastingKnickerBlogger

2015/16 NBA Season
Milwaukee bucks.vc6d60d4
(7-13, 5-4 home)
vs.
New york knicks.v3bf164b
(10-10, 5-4 road)
December 5, 2015
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:30 CT
Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Michael Carter-Williams PG Jose Calderon
O.J. Mayo SG Arron Afflalo
Khris Middleton SF Carmelo Anthony
Giannis Antetokounmpo PF Kristaps Porzingis
Greg Monroe C Robin Lopez
2014/15 Advanced Stats
92.7 (29th) Pace 94.1 (26th)
101.7 (24th) ORtg 103.2 (19th)
109.7 (29th) DRtg 103.4 (15th)