The short-handed Knicks hope to build on strong performances against Philly and Boston as they hunt for a win against the Bucks.
Tonight at 8:00 p.m ET, the Knicks will face the Milwaukee Bucks at the Fiserv Forum. It’s their first of three games against the Bucks, two of which will be played in Milwaukee.
The Knicks, now 4-16, are fresh off a brutal defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics. New York held the lead with under seven minutes left in the game but lost by nine points, extending its losing streak to six games.
In four games against Milwaukee last year, the Knicks came away with one win and one Mario Hezonja poster/stepover.
Arguably Hezonja’s greatest moment as a Knick, the dunk + Giannis stepover against the Bucks pic.twitter.com/Jz4DlE4eez— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) July 1, 2019
The Bucks, to put it simply, are a juggernaut. They hold a 17-3 record, tied for the best in the league, and are currently enjoying an 11-game win streak. They play with the highest pace in the league, are tied for most points per game, and rank eighth in assists per game.
Milwaukee is a strong defensive team as well. Their Defensive Rating of 103.2 is the fourth lowest in the league. They have the second-best defensive rebounding percentage and allow the second-lowest opponent field goal percentage.
They are led by 2018–19 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has picked up right where he left off last season, averaging 30.9 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 5.9 assists on 56.0% from the field. The Greek Freak anchors both sides of the floor for the Bucks.
Milwaukee also boasts 2018 All-Star Khris Middleton and dynamic guard Eric Bledsoe. Middleton is averaging 17.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.1 assists while Bledsoe is averaging 15.8 points, 5.7 assists, and 5.0 rebounds. The Bucks starting lineup is rounded out by Brook Lopez and Wesley Matthews, a former Knick.
The Knicks’ best chance at beating the Bucks is getting hot from three-point land. The Bucks allow their opponents the most threes attempted and made per game in the league, as well as the third-highest three-point percentage. The Knicks rank seventh in team three-point percentage in the league.
Marcus Morris missed New York’s last game due to cervical spams, missing his first game as a Knick. The team announced Monday that he will remain out and did not travel with the team.
Injury/Status Report: Frank Ntilikina (sore upper back) is listed as questionable for tonight’s game at Milwaukee. Kadeem Allen is with the team. Marcus Morris Sr (cervical spasms) is out tonight and did not travel with the team.— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) December 2, 2019
Frank Ntilikina left the Knicks’ last game after seven minutes with a sore upper back. He is listed as questionable for tonight.
Free throw woes
The Knicks’ free throw problems continued in Sunday’s loss, as the team shot 26-of-37, a rate of 70.3%, from the charity stripe.
Free throws might be the Knicks’ worst area. They rank dead last in the NBA, shooting just 67.5% as a team. The league average is 76.7%, a clip that the Knicks have surpassed in only four games this season. Their record in those games is 2-2.
The Knicks are on pace to become just the third NBA team in the last 50 years to shot below 68% from the free-throw line and 43% from the field— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) November 30, 2019
One bright spot is that the Knicks are good at getting to the line. They average 25.1 free throw attempts per game, which ranks eighth in the league. Their free throw rate of .291 ranks sixth in the league.
10 games after the press conference
After a home blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in November that brought New York’s record to 2-8, GM Scott Perry and President Steve Mills expressed their discontent with the team’s performance. They aimed for improvement over the team’s next 10 games, according to The Record’s Chris Iseman.
“I think a lot of times when you bring a lot of new guys together we realize it might take some time with guys learning how to play with one another,” Perry said. “But as we move forward we’re going to expect to see that improve. I think the willingness is there on the player’s parts. It’s just trying to figure out and adjust to playing here in New York and just playing with one another. So that’s what we’re going to be looking for.
“Again, we’ve been below the line to this point, but hopefully this next stretch of 10 games we’ll get above that line and have more consistent results.”
Although the Knicks posted another 2-8 record over the 10 game stretch, they’ve been more competitive. They’ve only suffered two blowout losses (against the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors in Toronto) compared to four. The loss to San Antonio was only a seven-point defeat, but New York trailed the entire game.
The Knicks have also put up tough fights against some good teams. They lost two games against the Philadelphia 76ers by a combined 11 points, and were neck and neck with the Celtics on Sunday before unraveling in the last six minutes. They lost by one point to the Hornets and by two points to the Brooklyn Nets.
In their second 10-game stretch, the Knicks have improved in points per game (while keeping their opponents’ nearly the same), field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage and assists per game. They’ve also cut back on turnovers.
Going from a handful of blowouts to just a couple of blowouts is a baby step, but at least it’s something. The Knicks have improved in almost every statistic, but obviously no change really matters until wins are more frequent.
Tonight’s matchup is the beginning of another 10-game stretch. The broadcast will be available on MSG Network.
UPDATE: 5:39 p.m. ET.
Frank Ntilikina is out tonight with a sore upper back, the team announced before tip-off.