Knicks need defense to step up against high-scoring Bucks
In the Knicks, Milwaukee will find a defense that has reverted back to its old, poor, ways.
After clamping up in a surprising three-game winning streak, which included victories in Boston and Memphis sandwiching a home win over the New Orleans Pelicans, New York reverted to its worrisome ways in losing two straight at Detroit and Philadelphia.
During the three-game run — which followed a five-game losing streak of its own — the Knicks allowed just over 105 points per game, far down from the 113.1 they allow on the season.
At the Pistons and Sixers, New York allowed 115 and 117 points, respectively, in two losses that sent them to 7-16 on the season.
“We didn’t have an answer for any of them,” head coach David Fizdale told reporters after the game. “That was a focused team, they came out with really good focus. When you get a veteran team that’s hitting that point where they’re all starting to figure it out, we just got blitzed and we really didn’t have an answer for anything they did.”
And now comes the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, comes to town.
Antetokounmpo is playing at an MVP level, averaging 27.3 points, 12.9 rebounds and 6.0 assists while shooting 57.7 percent from the field.
The Knicks are finding him at a bad time, too.
Antetokounmpo had a season-high 36 points, plus 11 rebounds and eight assists, in a 116-113 win over Chicago on Wednesday.
That masterpiece capped off a run of four 33-point games in his last five games.
New York got lucky the last time the two teams met last April, when Antetokounmpo sat out with a sore ankle. The Bucks still scored the 115-102 win, with Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe both picking up the slack with 22 points.
It was Middleton again who proved the difference for the Bucks on Wednesday against the Bulls, when he hit a 3-pointer to snap a 113-113 tie.
“For several years, I think Khris has been a big-shot maker, a big-shot guy at the end of games,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters after the game. “When you don’t get a touch that can make it harder. … He’s a heck of player, heck of a big-time gamer when the game is on the line.”
With Kristaps Porzingis still sidelined, the Knicks are still looking for their go-to guy. They’ve had different leading scorers in each of the last five games, with Tim Hardaway Jr. leading the team in scoring at 22.2 points per game, even if he was stifled against the 76ers with five points, one rebound, two assists and just 1-of-11 shooting from the field, 0-of-6 from three.
“Defensively, they were getting a lot of good buckets and they were running us around off screens,” Knicks rookie forward Kevin Knox said. “We were getting tired so we were coming down at the end and basically not really running our stuff. So coach called us around halftime, we came in the second half and started running some more of our plays, just running all the way through the shot clock, and getting good shots toward the end.”