Losers in six of their last seven contests, the Milwaukee Bucks desperately need to get back on track. The combined deficit in five of those losses came to 26 points, an average of 5.2 per contest. For a team that started the season with a record of 7-3 in games decided by 5 points or less, the latest run of close losses has been particularly painful. Milwaukee now sit 8th in the Eastern Conference, but an upcoming lighter stretch in the schedule will hopefully bring a change of fortune.
Only managing to win two of the last nine games, all against playoff contenders, the Bucks now get a run of four straight against teams that stand to gain more from losing then winning. First up, the New York Knicks, losers in 13 of their last 14 contests. The youth (tanking) policy is well in effect for the Knicks, who are in the process of finding out which of their young talent has a future in the league. Starting rookie Frank Ntilikina and Emmanual Mudiay, they are getting a taste of their potential backcourt for years to come.
Milwaukee on the other hand, is playing for the now. They battled right to the end in an attempt to halt the Houston Rockets streak at 16 Wednesday night, but a second quarter fadeout proved costly as they eventually fell, 99-110. Giannis Antetokounmpo rose to the occasion, continuing his return to form, to finish with 30 points and 7 rebounds. Despite battling hard all night, they simply didn’t have the firepower to keep pace with the Rockets.
Big man Tyler Zeller remains in doubt for tonights game, still suffering soreness after taking a scary fall on finishing a dunk against Philadelphia last week. Matthew Dellavedova (ankle) and Malcolm Brogdon (quad) remain out. For the Knicks, Kristaps Porzingis is the marqueee player to miss, recovering from tearing his ACL the last time these two teams met. Courtney Lee also remains day-to-day according to the Knicks latest injury report.
The Bucks do have fond memories of playing the Knicks so far this season however, as they hold the season series lead, 2-to-nothing. Although the first encounter in Milwaukee was a nail biter, as a lay-up from Giannis sealed a two point victory in Jabari Parker’s return to the floor. I mentioned earlier that the Bucks currently sit in the 8th seed, despite this, they remain only three games out of the 4th seed and home court advantage. The race is tight, and if the Bucks are able to take advantage of this light stretch, they will find themselves right back in the mix.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Clean Up The Basics: A staple of the Bucks play in the recent string of losses has been the consistent fundamental errors they have continued to make. Whether it be an errant pass, sloppy dribble, or blown defensive assignment, they have made their opponents life far easier then it should be in big moments. With the game on the line against Houston in the fourth quarter, the Bucks gave up three huge uncontested offensive rebounds, allowing them to wind down the clock. Just another example of the lapses in concentration this Bucks team can be prone to.
- Move The Ball: This Milwaukee team gets bogged down on offense far too often. For a team with a plethora of guys who can handle the ball and make plays, the amount of iso-ball being played is unacceptable. Whether it’s Giannis, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton or Jabari Parker. To many offensive possessions are resulting in a no pass, mid range jump shot. The Bucks have guys that can make plays and knock down open shots. They need to move the ball and make it a reality. The job has been far too easy for the opposition defense of late.
- Box Out Kanter: Enes Kanter is a really solid offensive player. He can score in a variety of ways in the paint, not unlike former Buck Greg Monroe, and he will not hesitate in hitting the glass on both ends. In the two games so far against Milwaukee, Kanter has averaged 18 points and 17 rebounds. Staggering numbers. Even more crazy is the fact that 14 of his 34 boards have come on the offensive glass. Kanter has been dominant, and the Bucks will want to come ready to get physical, because if not, Enes could prove the difference.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus