The New York Knicks have defeated the Milwaukee Bucks twice already this season, but the third and final round is still going to be something to watch. New York is on a 10-game winning streak and definitely the better team on paper, but let’s not forget that they needed a second-half rally to take down Milwaukee in the teams’ last meeting on Feb. 1.
If an 11th consecutive victory is to be achieved, a stronger effort must be made from all parties.
Moreover, the Bucks are a team that like to occasionally run on offense. The Knicks have struggled against that type of attack all season long, and all it takes is for one Milwaukee player to get hot to give the Bucks a shot at winning the game.
This means that New York’s on-ball defense must be top notch as well as their scoring attack, and that cannot be done without certain players stepping up.
Key Matchup: Larry Sanders vs. Tyson Chandler
Sanders has been an unexpected surprise in Milwaukee this season, as the 6’11”, 235 pound third-year center out of VCU has become an interior defensive machine. This season, he is averaging 9.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game (second in the NBA) and appears well on his way to becoming one of the league’s top centers.
However, Sanders was a victim of inexperience the last time the Bucks faced the Knicks. He managed 10 rebounds and two blocks on Feb. 1, but was 0 for 6 from the field and held to just two points. Long story short, he was unable to get past the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Chandler.
At 7’1″, 240 pounds, Chandler has been excellent for New York once again this season. He is averaging 10.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting an eye-popping 64 percent from the field.
Just how Chandler performs, however, remains to be seen. He is only just coming back from a bulging disc in his neck, and the pain has kept him from being a dominant force on both sides of the floor.
Hopefully, a day off will have done him good as the Knicks need him badly to win this game.
X-Factor: J.R. Smith
With season averages of 17.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, plus a field goal percentage of 41.5 percent and three-point mark of 35 percent, Smith has definitely been a spark off the bench for New York. In fact, he’s probably one of the strongest candidates for Sixth Man of the Year.
The only real mark against Smith is that he has been notoriously streaky all season long, and he simply cannot have an off night against the Bucks. Fortunately, his last five games suggest that he won’t. Over that stretch, Smith is averaging 24 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and an amazing 47 percent from long range.
This just means that against Milwaukee, he must continue to diversify his attack. He must drive the lane as well as hit open three-pointers. Most important of all, he must create off the dribble.
If Smith can be effective that way and not as trigger happy as he has been at some points this season, then New York definitely has a shot at winning this game. Otherwise, a victory becomes much harder.
The Bucks would love to play spoiler in this game, but I just don’t see it happening. Their two main offensive threats in guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are just too streaky, and the rest of the team just doesn’t have what it takes to compensate for a bad night from them.
This opens the door for the Knicks to have another great game, from Carmelo Anthony scoring a ton of points once again to guys like Chandler and Smith doing what they do best. Even point man Raymond Felton should be able to drive the lane and create off the dribble well.
By the final buzzer, it will be obvious that New York was in control for a majority of the game.
New York Knicks 99, Milwaukee Bucks 85