The New York Knicks seek their fourth win in a row when they face a familiar adversary on the road, the Milwaukee Bucks.
A small rivalry has brewed between both teams since coach Tom Thibodeau arrived in New York. The Bucks are 4-3 against the Knicks in that time but have rarely blown them out. The Knicks always play hard against them because they know as well as anyone else, Milwaukee is a potential playoff opponent.
This is a meaningless early season game and has an incredible amount of pride on the line. The Knicks are on a winning streak and want to hand the undefeated Bucks their first loss. What’s more, Milwaukee must now contend with Jalen Brunson.
Time: Friday, Oct. 28, 8:00 p.m. ET
Injuries: Quentin Grimes (foot, out), Khris Middleton (wrist, out) Joe Ingles (knee, out) Pat Connaughton (calf, out)
Betting Line: Knicks +6.5 (via FanDuel)
Key Storyline: A playoff preview in the making. It’s still too early to predict playoff seeding, but the last two years proved a Knicks-Bucks playoff matchup could be fun. We’ve already discussed how New York gives its all against Milwaukee, particularly a 21-point comeback last year. Thibodeau’s first win as the Knicks’ coach also came against an eventual championship Bucks team.
This regular season rivalry can easily evolve into one in the playoffs. Two great coaches in Thibodeau and Mike Budenholzer. The stardom of Giannis Antetokounmpo matched against a tough New York squad under the lights of Madison Square Garden. For now, though, it’s just a random night in October with potential playoff intensity.
Key matchup: Jalen Brunson vs Jrue Holiday. Brunson has been as advertised in New York after signing a max contract in free agency. Through four games, he’s posted 20 points and 8.5 assists. The former Villanova Wildcat has also been efficient, shooting 51.7% from the field and 41.2% from three-point range.
Bucks veteran point man Jrue Holiday has gotten off to a much slower start this year but is still a strong defender, and a tougher one than Brunson at that. He knows slowing down the Knicks’ point guard means slowing down their whole offense. Even with his team shorthanded, he’ll certainly prioritize defense over picking up the scoring slack.
For Brunson, that just means doing what he’s done the entirety of his brief Knicks career. Stay focused, seize the moment, and play the game.
X-Factor: RJ Barrett. Pat Connaughton’s injury leaves the Bucks without solid wing defense. This opens the door for RJ Barrett, who’s off to a slow start this season but showed signs of life against Charlotte on Wednesday. Brunson and Julius Randle will have their hands full with Holiday and Giannis, leaving a lane for Barrett to potentially go off in Milwaukee.
Barrett also needs a pick-me-up against the Bucks. He’s averaging 17 points and 5.2 rebounds in nine games against them, but only while shooting 37.1%. These aren’t far off from Barrett’s regular season marks of 17.8 and 6.3 rebounds this season, though he needs to get going from three-point range. Without Connaughton or Middleton hounding him, Barrett is in line for a big game.
Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), Evan Fournier (SG), RJ Barrett (SF), Julius Randle (PF), Mitchell Robinson (C)
Bucks: Jrue Holiday (PG), Jevon Carter (G), Grayson Allen (G/F), Giannis Antetokounmpo (PF), Brook Lopez (C)
Prediction: This is a classic offense vs. defense tilt early in the season, with the Bucks ranking first in points allowed and the Knicks second in scoring. Something’s going to give on Friday and on paper, fortune favors New York in the small sample size. The Knicks are in a good, fluid gear over their first few games and also have the health advantage.
Milwaukee will make it a game, but New York’s strength will prevail.
New York Knicks 112, Bucks 105