Saturday 04th February 2023,
The Hoop Doctors

Knicks vs. Bucks: New York Appears Playoff-Ready

Both the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks have eight games left of their regular season. Thanks to last night’s 111-107 head-to-head win the Knicks rallied to split the season series with Milwaukee and, more importantly, are now a full two games clear of the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference. New York is short-handed yet with the kind of tunnel vision offensively — let Carmelo Anthony get his looks and dictate action, then go from there — that suits their star and allows the role players around him to contribute when the timing is right. And their defense down the stretch, for after much of last night being a track meet, was hounding Milwaukee, flying all over the place and forcing shooters off their spots which ultimately led to the Bucks taking some pretty questionable, and definitely rushed, attempts when the game was in the balance.

The Knicks, led by Anthony’s brilliant shot-taking-and-making abilities and a ratcheted-up defensive effort in the fourth quarter (the Bucks scored 19 points in the frame), rose to the occasion in Milwaukee. Obviously, the importance of this game was not lost on either team, but it seemed to affect the play of the Bucks more. Mike Dunleavy pulled the trigger on a few shots that could’ve probably been reworked through the offense and Brandon Jennings, though overall dynamic and aggressive in this one, launched a few that just seemed too desperate, though I suppose that’s exactly what the Bucks are, especially now. Monta Ellis needs to be mentioned, as he hit difficult, off-balance, sidewinding shots all night towards 35 points and mixed in 10 helpers, six boards and four steals to boot; even he, though, eventually couldn’t keep pace with ‘Melo and some timely buckets from J.R. Smith. You could say the Knicks’ experience — Anthony and Smith have played in plenty of postseasons and Tyson Chandler just won a championship — made them seem more at ease in the situation, and it does feel like New York is the team of these two better prepared to advance, or survive, onto the postseason.

That’s not to say, however, that the race is over. Milwaukee could have made things much more interesting with a win last night but the final advantage they hold lies in the schedule. The Pacers twice, Sixers and Celtics (the season finale) are offset with Toronto, Detroit, New Jersey and Washington — games that while dangerous should be won if the Bucks want any shot of catching New York, who must still face formidable teams battling for playoff positions in Miami, Boston, Atlanta and the Clippers — with Washington, New Jersey, Cleveland and a season-ender in Charlotte rounding out the schedule.

Interestingly, if it comes down to that final game the balance swings decidedly in the Knicks’ favor. And really, thanks to the comfort provided from that win last night, the East’s last postseason berth is New York’s to lose at this point. They’ve had what one could call a “busy” regular season, with Jeremy Lin and Mike D’Antoni as mere afterthoughts right now (which is insane to think about) and Amare Stoudemire only a looming question mark, but the Knicks did what they had to in winning a game and keeping an order to a finish that could’ve turned into a free-for-all over the next few weeks.

Maybe this new Milwaukee experiment isn’t quite ready, but they aren’t totally dead yet, either. They should provide enough strain to keep Anthony and the Knicks on edge the rest of the regular season. But in the end Milwaukee may never get as close as they were last night, and if New York can hang on, they’ll likely remember this one.

Griffin Gotta contributes to The Hoop Doctors and is a co-managing editor of Straight Outta Vancouver. The story arcs and infinite weirdness of the NBA are addictions he deals with every day. Email him at griffingotta at gmail dot com.

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