The Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks, two of the bottom three teams in the East, are a combined 12-36 this season. But both are still very much in contention for a playoff spot.
New York (7-17) is just three games behind Toronto for the eighth seed, while Milwaukee (5-19) trails by five games. Both teams entered the season with playoff aspirations, and the Knicks were expected to compete for a top three or four seed after finishing with the East’s second-best record last season. However, a combination of injuries and downright poor play have plagued New York thus far, and the same can be said for Milwaukee.
The Bucks are expected to be without Caron Butler (knee) and Gary Neal (ankle) Wednesday, and it’s possible Khris Middleton (ankle) and Ersan Ilyasova (ankle) could sit out as well. Butler and Neal missed practiced Tuesday, while the Middleton and Ilyasova were limited participants. Larry Sanders (thumb), Carlos Delfino (foot) and Zaza Pachulia (foot) also remain out.
New York’s injury report doesn’t look a whole lot better. The Knicks lost Pablo Prigioni to a broken toe on Monday, and he joins Raymond Felton (hamstring), Kenyon Martin (abdomen) and Amare Stoudemire (knee/back) on the inactive list. However, all signs point to Tyson Chandler making his long-awaited return from a broken fibula Wednesday. Chandler has not played since Nov. 5, and much of the Knicks’ defensive woes have been blamed on the big man’s absence. Chandler went through 5-on-5 drills without issue during Tuesday’s practice, but it’s possible coach Mike Woodson could limit his minutes as he works back into game shape.
With Prigioni and Felton out of the lineup, Beno Udrih will step in as the starting point guard, and the team indicated rookie Toure Murry will be his primary backup.
The Knicks enter Wednesday coming off of a l102-101 loss to the Wizards at Madison Square Garden on Monday. New York led by two entering the fourth quarter, but two clutch baskets from Bradley Beal with under a minute remaining sealed the Washington victory. The loss was the fourth in six games for New York.
Milwaukee has not played since Friday’s thrashing at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. The team has lost six of its last eight and is yet to have a winning streak this season.
What to look for:
-With Tyson Chandler back in the fold, will the Knicks’ defense instantly improve, as many are hoping? New York already has the eighth-best scoring defense in the league and Chandler’s presence can only improve that ranking. Where New York really hopes he’ll make a difference, however, is on the boards. The Knicks are the league’s second-worst rebounding team, grabbing 38.5 per game. They’ll have a chance to improve upon that number versus a Bucks team that ranks 27th.
-While Khris Middleton has started at small forward for the majority of the season, it appears coach Larry Drew is considering inserting Giannis Antetokounmpo into the starting lineup. The rookie has played well of late in increased minutes, and a Bucks team that averages a league-worst 21.8 first quarter points would welcome his energy. It’s uncertain whether Drew will, indeed, make the change for Wednesday’s game, but if nothing else there’s a good chance Antetokounmpo makes his first career start in the near future
Milwaukee's close to moving rookie phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo into starting lineup, league sources tell Yahoo. Bucks host Knicks tonight.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) December 18, 2013
-When these two teams met on opening night, New York escaped with a 90-83 victory after blowing a 25-point second-half lead. No player for either club reached 20 points, and three Bucks players expected to sit out Wednesday played at least 30 minutes in the contest (Butler, Neal, Pachulia). New York saw only five minutes of Antetkounmpo, and both Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight sat out with injuries (Knight exited in the first quarter after suffering a hamstring injury). It will certainly be interesting to see how the Knicks handle a vastly different Bucks team from the one they faced on Oct. 30.
Points: Anthony (26.3), Mayo (13.9)
Rebounds: Anthony (9.1), Henson (7.6)
Assists: Felton (5.2), Wolters (4.1)
New York: Udrih-Smith-Shumpert-Anthony-Chandler
(click to enlarge)