A quick stop at home to kick off 2017 Monday evening to top the Oklahoma City Thunder, 98-94, now sees the Milwaukee Bucks heading due east for the first half of a home-and-home with the New York Knicks.
The Bucks scrapped their way back over .500 with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Russell Westbrook and his OKC Thunder to come into tonight with a record of 17-16. Milwaukee’s star Giannis Antetokounmpo stood toe-to-toe with the prolific (if shoddy shooting) Westbrook on his way to a 26 point (on 10/19 shooting), 10 rebound and five assist evening, continuing his ascent into nascent stardom.
Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe topped out the high-scoring list for Milwaukee. Monroe would prove to be a decisive factor when John Henson struggled to slow down Steven Adams inside, and though he isn’t putting up the consistent raw double-doubles we’re accustomed to (though his per 36 numbers are nearly identical to his career norms), he continues to show great utility as a presence off the bench.
A final guy worth pointing the spotlight on would be Tony Snell. His acquisition was questioned from the start, but he has proven to be the exact type of wing necessary to plug some of the holes Khris Middleton’s absence presents. I could gush all about him, but Eric already took care of that on Locked on Bucks:
And if Eric’s heartfelt praise wasn’t enough to get that cold heart of yours warmed up, Giannis had a few nice things to say about his soft-spoken teammate:
We asked Giannis about their defense on Westbrook. He wanted to make sure we singled out one guy, @TonySnell20.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) January 3, 2017
Here you go, @Giannis_An34: pic.twitter.com/UBKYBWXtcW
And on top of all that good news, Giannis will find himself matched up with his mortal enemy in Carmelo Anthony. When the two are on the court together, Giannis-shaped fireworks tend to appear in abundance. Drop into the mix the big stage that is New York City with the early implications tonight’s result will have on the ambiguous playoff picture, and you’re guaranteed a great viewing experience.
In the realm of injuries, Matthew Dellavedova will continue to rest, though he is with the team in New York. That means another start for Malcolm Brogdon, who has been 2-1 in his stint with the starting unit. Khris Middleton also, as always, remains out.
The New York Knicks have been, how would you say, a bit cold as of late. They’re slogging through a five-game losing streak that has seen their poor defense (25th by rating) give up 102+ points on each occasion.
With Kyle O’Quinn and Joakim Noah filling in for Kristaps Porzingis, head coach Jeff Hornacek doesn’t necessarily need to worry about a salve for the interior defense, but more often than not any guard with competent shooting capability can and usually has lit them up (Derrick Rose and Courtney Lee have matching 114.0 individual defensive ratings).
Of course, when you think New York, it all comes down to the stars, and resident sorta-star-who-may-not-really-like-playing-for-the-Knicks Carmelo Anthony is the most proven thing on the roster still. If you’ve followed the NBA for any period over the past decade plus, you know that Anthony’s specialty is scoring in every way imaginable. He can be the right offensive tool for innumerable situations, but his ball-dominance often means you live by Anthony and subsequently die by him when he’s off.
Through the season so far, Carmelo has been a bit below his career per 36 averages putting up 23.5 pts (33.3% shooting from three and 42.0% overall), 6.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. Those are minor decreases across the board, but part of his downsizing can be directly attributed to the arrival last year of breakout rookie Porzingis and a trade this off-season that brought Derrick Rose to the Big Apple.
Rose, who probably needed a change of scenery as badly as any player in the NBA, hasn’t yet been a revelation at point guard this year. His scoring totals have began their climb back to the better stats of yesteryear, but Hornacek has ensured that he doesn’t find himself often tempted into taking threes and has kept his usage rate at its lowest level since Rose’s rookie season. Regardless, he still loves tucking his head and barreling his way into the paint, and keeping him (and the ball) stuck down there rather than kicked back out will be of utmost importance.
With such a porous defense, though, it will be near impossible for the Knicks to prevent at least a few Bucks scoring in droves. If Milwaukee can weather Melo’s scoring storm, things should tilt at least relatively to the road team’s favor this evening.
On the injury front, the aforementioned Porzingis remains out while he recovers from a sore Achilles's tendon.
Update! Locked On Bucks also recorded a preview of the Knicks game, and were joined by Jared Dubin (@JADubin5), who provided an in-depth breakdown of the Knicks, as well as a recent history lesson on the Bucks defense.