Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks suffered through a rare inefficient night offensively in their disappointing loss to the Brooklyn Nets Thursday night. Returning to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks might just be the tonic they need to forget about that outing. Giannis has become a regular Knicks tormentor in his short four year span in the NBA, and this season has been no exception.
Antetokounmpo completed one of the plays of the NBA season the last time the Bucks visited New York, leaping over Tim Hardaway Jr to finishing a Khris Middleton lob, to wow the sold out crowd at the worlds most famous arena. The contest before that, this time in Milwaukee, he drove to the rim and finished a contested lay up with just 1.9 seconds remaining to lead the Bucks to a 92-90 victory.
In further torment for Knicks fans, their unicorn Kristaps Porzingis devastatingly tore his ACL when completing a monster dunk over Giannis, ending his season and crushing Knicks fans spirit in the process. Fortunately for the Knicks, they will avoid the Greek Freak tonight, as he is listed out with ankle soreness.
The 7th seeded Bucks have somehow moved up in the standings since blowing a golden opportunity to gain ground in losing to the lowly Brooklyn Nets. Going down under a barrage of three-point makes, the Nets sunk 19 of their 39 attempts from beyond the arc to blast their way to a 119-111 upset victory. Giannis and Jabari Parker combined to shoot 13-for-42 from the field, and the Bucks struggled to overcome that rare inefficiency, as the stunned Bradley Center crowd went home disappointed.
The Knicks inadvertently helped the Bucks last night, by blowing out the 6th seeded Miami Heat 122-98. The Knicks dominated the game from the outset, on the back of a stunning performance by rookie Damyean Dotson, who finished with 30 points 11 rebounds, to be the first Knicks rookie with 30 points or more off the bench since Channing Frye accomplished the feat on January 6th, 2006, as reported by ESPN’s Ian Begley. The Knicks win allowed the Bucks to move within half a game of the Heat entering tonights contest.
Malcolm Brogdon is listed as a game time decision for his long awaited return, while Matthew Dellavedova continues to inch closer to a return for the Bucks, though he will not take the floor in New York. Sterling Brown is also out for the Bucks for personal reasons. Emmanuel Mudiay is out for the Knicks, Hardaway Jr and Enes Kanter are both questionable. Mudiay suffered a concussion when he fell out of bounds last night, making contact with a photographers camera. Hardaway Jr injured his left ankle late in the third quarter and failed to return.
With both playoff and draft pick implications on the line, Milwaukee desperately need to rebound from what was an awful performance at home on Thursday night. With just three games left in the regular season, they find themselves running out of time to gain momentum heading into what will be a real opportunity to advance to the second round for just the second time in two decades. Perhaps Madison Square Garden is indeed just what they need.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Center stage Jabari: With Giannis not playing tonight, it gives Jabari Parker the perfect opportunity to not only start but take the lead role in the offense. Parker battled through a rough night against the Nets to finish 6-for-21 from the field. As Parker’s minutes have increased, so has his offensive production, notching double digit scoring in 13 of his last 18 appearances. The highlight, a 35 point, 10 rebound effort in Denver last week. A similar stat line might be required to fill the gaping whole left by Giannis sitting this one out.
- Be prepared to battle KOQ: With Bucks dominator Enes Kanter unlikely to play tonight, the next man up for the Knicks is Kyle O’Quinn. The physical 250 pounder is coming off a 14 point, 14 rebound effort against the Heat in which six of his boards where on the offensive glass. The Bucks rebounding woes are well known, and they best arrive ready to play physical against a guy who is not afraid to put on a body on his opponent. At 6’10”, the Bucks center duo of John Henson and Tyler Zeller will have the height and reach advantage, but they will need to ensure their positioning puts them in the position to take advantage of that length.
- Start to get playoff ready: No Giannis is not playing, no the Knicks don’t have a whole lot to play for, but the Bucks need to start showing improved focus as the playoffs draw within a week. Against the Nets they were typically slow on defensive rotations and they allowed their opposition to find the range. New York attempted 39 three pointers last night, knocking down 18 in eerily similar numbers to what the Bucks faced on Thursday night. With plenty on the line, it’s time for Milwaukee to get serious.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus