On one hand, this is just an early regular season matchup between the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum.
But on the other hand, this game means a little bit more. It also serves as a group play matchup between both teams in the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament. Specifically, the Knicks and Bucks are in “East B” along with the Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, and Washington Wizards. The rules, ins-and-outs, and everything about the tournament can be read here.
Shifting back to the game, this is something of a revenge matchup for the Knicks. Milwaukee swept the season series 3-0 last year, though New York kept the games close.
The Knicks are banged up and might be without RJ Barrett, but make no mistake. This is the perfect game for them to break out of their team-wide shooting slump and start playing more consistent basketball.
Time: Friday, November 3, 7:30 p.m. ET
Injuries: RJ Barrett (Knee; questionable), Andre Jackson Jr. (Questionable; hip)
Betting Line: Knicks +5.5, Over/under 224.5 via DraftKings
Key Storyline: What will the NBA In-Season Tournament look like? Like we said before, this is also just a regular season game on top of In-Season Tournament group play. It’s also still very early in the season. The Knicks are 2-3 while the Bucks and new star point guard Damian Lillard are 2-2. There’s really no reason to believe this game will be different than any other.
Except what if it is? Will Dame be extra motivated to win since there’s that small extra bit of pride on the line? Or what if tonight is when Julius Randle finally finds his consistency and stuffs the stat sheet. There’s still the chance, albeit a small one, that this game will be extra intense and make fans pay a little extra attention to the tournament.
Key Matchup: Tom Thibodeau vs. Adrian Griffin. The on-court battle between Lillard and the Knicks’ Jalen Brunson will be the main focus, but the real matchup in this game is on the sidelines. Thibodeau is a veteran coach with decades of experience, and he’s fared pretty well against the Bucks with a 21-14 career record against them.
Griffin, on the other hand, is a veteran assistant and first-year head coach. He even worked under Thibodeau in Chicago and later won a ring with Nick Nurse and the Raptors. Not a terrible candidate to succeed Mike Budenholzer, who coached the Bucks to a title two years ago.
Yet, Milwaukee’s defense hasn’t looked great while New York’s ranks second in points allowed per game. Contrastingly, the Knicks are the second-worst scoring team while the Bucks rank ninth. In the end, the coaching could very well decide this.
X-Factor: Jalen Brunson. Instead of lamenting about how this is yet another chance for Randle to break out, let’s instead focus on Brunson. He really needs a big game because Lillard, shockingly, is struggling through four games in Milwaukee. His scoring has dipped nearly 11 points to 21.3 per game, and his assists are down from 7.3 last year to 4.8 thus far. Lillard is also shooting a paltry 40% from the field and only 29% from three.
Brunson is also off to a slow start with some ugly percentages, but this is why the Knicks signed him. To be a reliable scoring point guard who can keep up with the NBA’s best, including Lillard. Add the adrenaline from this also being a tournament game, and Brunson could set himself up for a big, big night.
Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), Quentin Grimes (SG), Josh Hart (SF), Julius Randle (PF), Mitchell Robinson (C)
Bucks predicted starters: Damian Lillard (PG), Malik Beasley (SG), Khris Middleton (SF), Giannis Antetokounmpo (PF), Brook Lopez (C)
Prediction: As much as the Knicks need this game, the Bucks still have more talent on paper. Giannis is a two-time MVP and even with Lillard’s struggles, the Bucks are also loaded with players who can stretch the floor. We’ve discussed how this is a key issue facing the Knicks, particularly with Randle still struggling.
Add RJ Barrett probably sitting out his second straight game, and shorthanded New York will only be able to keep the game respectably close.
Milwaukee Bucks defeat New York Knicks, 112-105