New York will come into their Quarter-Final game at Fiserv Forum looking to avenge their loss earlier in the Tournament to the Bucks.
The Knicks (12-7), after rattling off three consecutive victories in Group against the Wizards, Heat, and Hornets, find themselves in the East Semifinals of the In-Season Tournament. Their opponent is one of the conference powerhouses: the Milwaukee Bucks (14-6), who are on a heater themselves, winning nine of their last 11 games. New York lost a close contest to the Bucks in their first game of the Tournament, 110-105, and look to advance in the bracket and play either the Pacers or Celtics in Las Vegas on December 7th. The loser is knocked out and plays a regular-season game against an Eastern Conference opponent this Friday.
Keep It A Buck
Milwaukee has won all four of their Tournament games thus far and seems to be gelling much better after a bit of a bumpy road to begin the season. Incorporating any talented player, (Damian Lillard in this case) into an established, championship-level team with a star like Giannis Antetokounmpo deeply ingrained in the fabric of a city can bring along some growing pains as the team and the new player learn to coexist, but it looks like these two superstars are clicking on all cylinders.
In Lillard’s last 10 games, he is looking more and more like the seven-time All-Star we saw in Portland, averaging 27.7 points per game, 8.7 assists, and 38.8% from behind the arch, per ESPN Stats, all exceeding his career averages. The sharpshooting and offensive firepower is obviously a Dame staple, but the assist numbers are up and you can deduce that having the Greek Freak and his high field goal percentage to pass to has a lot to do with that.
Giannis isn’t too shabby either, putting up 30 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists in his last 10, including eight double-doubles. Combine Giannis and Dame’s production with the outstanding veteran supporting cast of Brook Lopez, Malik Beasley, Khris Middleton, and Bobby Portis, the Bucks are a force to be reckoned with and will be arguably the toughest challenge the Knicks square off against all season.
Milwaukee has beaten the Knicks seven straight times, per Land of Basketball, dating back to 2021.
How the Knicks Can Advance
While the Bucks are one of the classes of the East and will be a tough test for the ‘Bockers, the Knicks are starting to find their groove at the right time and have a little extra regular season incentive to stick it to Milwaukee on their home floor. The Knicks are a Devin Booker fadeaway three from being on a five-game winning streak and have been much better in recent weeks.
Julius Randle, who was brutal against Milwaukee the first time around to the tune of 5-20 from the floor, looks to continue his outstanding play recently, highlighted by two near triple-doubles and a 25-20 game against Charlotte. Randle has historically struggled against Milwaukee and their consistently good defense, but if he can pick up where he left off Friday, this will go a long way in the Knicks moving on.
To me, it’s all about Randle and Jalen Brunson, who poured in 45 against the Bucks last matchup. The one thing about the Bucks that is worse with the Lillard acquisition, which came with the loss of Jrue Holiday, is perimeter defense. The Bucks ranked first in the NBA last season in opponents’ three-point percentage, but now have dropped off this year to the middle of the pack at 16, per NBA Stats. There will be plenty of opportunity for not only JB but Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley among others to feast and avoid having to go at Giannis and his length in the middle.
Expect to see a high volume of outside shots for the Knicks this Tuesday.
Chasing the Bag
With $500k per player on the line for the In-Season Tournament champion, the stakes are high as many teams still in the fold endeavor to win the prize money in this inaugural competition. One knock on the NBA is that the regular season doesn’t provide enough urgency and that players are taking advantage of their flexibility and power and sitting out games they deem meaningless for the sole purpose of resting.
Fortunately, this Tournament creates urgency and incentivizes players to suit up on a nightly basis to secure the prize money at the end. Sure, some players making hundreds of millions of dollars will be more than fine without the cash, but $500k is $500k and could be life-changing money for many second-round, undrafted, or bench guys who don’t have the income of the stars. Being able to rally around that prize as a team is fuel for teams as they navigate their way through the bracket.
Although a bit confusing, overall I feel like this has been a net positive for the NBA who has premium matchups on the docket as we approach the end of the Tournament.