Knicks get best of Bucks in early test

MILWAUKEE — Carmelo Anthony drove to the basket for an easy layup in the second half and then glanced back at his defender with a giant smile. It was almost like his face read, “That was easy.”

It was just one of those nights for the Milwaukee Bucks.

In a game in which the Bucks could have made a statement on their home floor, they instead fell flat on their faces in a 102-88 loss to the visiting New York Knicks on Wednesday night. For the second consecutive game, the starting unit watched the majority of the second half from the bench.

Monday, the Bucks fell behind by 27 in Chicago, but found lightning in a bottle when the reserves found a way to rally to win. Falling behind by 22 on Wednesday, coach Scott Skiles tried that same lineup, hoping for another miracle, but that wasn’t going to happen twice in a row.

The gigantic comeback masked the fact that the Bucks’ top unit was lackluster Monday. One would hope that a natural response Wednesday would have been to come out aggressive, but it didn’t happen.

Anthony was smiling because it came so easy to New York and he didn’t have to take his warm-ups off in the fourth quarter. He scored 29 points in 30 minutes and wasn’t forced to take one bad shot. With Luc Richard Mbah a Moute injured, nobody on the Bucks roster could guard him.

“The things we wanted to do and talked about before the game, wanting to make Melo have an inefficient game and controlling the 3-point shots, neither one of those happened,” Skiles said. “You need to have a really sharp pick-and-roll game against them and we didn’t. We were down over 20 again in the second half in large part because of those things.”

How concerning is it that the starters have struggled for two consecutive games? Concerning enough that Skiles is looking at lineup changes before Friday’s game in Minnesota.

“That’s the decision that has to be made,” Skiles said. “Right now, falling behind by over 20 points in back-to-back halves of NBA games, you should be looking at almost everyone right now.”

Everything it takes to beat the Knicks, Milwaukee didn’t do well. Anthony didn’t have to work for his points, the Bucks didn’t defend the three-point line, giving up 11 3’s, and couldn’t stop New York’s pick-and-roll.

“We just have to be more mentally strong and mentally prepared coming into the game,” Bucks guard Marquis Daniels said. “Just in knowing what we have to do as a team. That’s something we talked about, getting them off the three-point line, making them take tough shots, for some reason we didn’t get that done tonight.”

And the Bucks haven’t been getting it done at home, falling to 3-4. But bigger than that, each time a good team has come into the BMO Harris Bradley Center, it has walked away with a win.

“It’s just our approach,” Daniels said. “We just have to prepare better mentally. Coach has been doing a good job of getting us ready, but as a group we have to hold ourselves accountable and be ready to play regardless of if it is home or away. We have to take care of home.”

The true character of the Bucks will now be tested. It’s not if adversity will come, but when. It’s come and the key will be how Milwaukee reacts to it.

“We just have to play a lot better,” Bucks forward Mike Dunleavy said. “The last four or five games — with the exception of the last quarter of the Bulls game — we just haven’t played good basketball. We’ve got to be more consistent with our effort and willingness to do what it takes to win.”

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