Bledsoe, Middleton lead Bucks past Knicks
NEW YORK — If the easier road in the Eastern Conference is from seventh place instead of sixth, the Milwaukee Bucks aren’t interested in taking it.
They know they aren’t going to get the right playoff mindset by losing.
“If you have that mentality it kind of carries over to the postseason and you become a complacent basketball player,” forward Jabari Parker said.
Eric Bledsoe had 22 points and 10 assists, and the Bucks moved into a tie for sixth place in the East with a 115-102 victory over the New York Knicks on Saturday night.
Khris Middleton also scored 22 points for the Bucks, who joined Miami with a 43-37 record. The Heat were blown out by the Knicks at Madison Square Garden a night earlier but the Bucks avoided the same fate despite playing without All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo because of a sore right ankle.
The No. 6 seed would be looking at facing Philadelphia, which has won 13 straight games, or LeBron James and Cleveland. The team that ends up seventh draws a second-seeded Boston team that has lost All-Star guard Kyrie Irving for the season.
“They got a great a basketball team and a great coach,” Bledsoe said. “Obviously they’re missing a couple of key players but at the same time they were playing well without those guys in the lineup.”
Parker made his second start of the season in Antetokounmpo’s place and finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. John Henson had 15 points and 12 boards for the Bucks, who hoped to get point guard Malcolm Brogdon back but will have to wait a little longer as they try to become the dangerous team they think they can be.
“We know how good we can be and we’ve shown it,” coach Joe Prunty said. “We’ve shown it in games and over stretches of games, but similar to what we were talking about earlier, we have also had lulls or games where we haven’t played as well as we’d like to or need to, and that’s what we’re trying to build on every day.”
Jarrett Jack scored 18 points and Kyle O’Quinn had 15 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and four blocks for the Knicks, who beat Miami 122-98 on Friday but fell short in their hopes of beating another playoff-bound team.
The Knicks were without Tim Hardaway Jr. (sprained left ankle), Enes Kanter (lower back, right wrist) and Emmanuel Mudiay (concussion). Michael Beasley started after leaving Friday’s game with a bruised left knee.
Jack was the starter earlier in the season before falling out of the rotation entirely while the Knicks turned to young guards Trey Burke, Frank Ntilikina and Mudiay.
“The job is 82 games,” Jack said. “If you’re not in, you cheer for everybody else. But if he calls your number, be ready to come in there and be ready to come in there and contribute as best you can.”
The game was close most of the way until the Bucks, trailing by one, took control with a 12-0 run in the fourth quarter. Middleton’s basket gave Milwaukee the lead for good, Tony Snell and Parker made 3-pointers, and Bledsoe made four free throws as the Bucks surged to a 106-95 advantage with 2:17 to play.
Snell left a little more than five minutes into the game when he turned an ankle when he stepped on a teammate’s foot while chasing a Knicks player around a screen. He returned in the second quarter and had 10 points.
Bucks: Prunty said Brogdon (left quad) was evaluated Saturday and it was determined he wasn’t ready to go. The Bucks hope last season’s Rookie of the Year can play Monday. … Parker had averaged 20 points in his last three games.
Knicks: Coach Jeff Hornacek said he expected that Kanter and Hardaway would play again this season if healthy, refusing to rule them out for the final two games. “Those guys are all competitors and that’s what we like about them,” Hornacek said. … Knicks starters had no turnovers in the first half and the team had just two total, both by Luke Kornet.
The Knicks held Latvian heritage night in celebration of Latvia’s 100th anniversary. The New York Latvian Concert Choir sang the national anthem and Latvia President Raimond Vejonis was presented with a personalized jersey by Knicks All-Star Kristaps Porzingis, who is from Latvia.
Bucks: Host Orlando on Monday.
Knicks: Host Cleveland on Monday.