This week marks a tough stretch for the Knicks, as they're facing the Bucks (right below the Knicks in the standings) on Monday, the third-seeded Orlando Magic on Wednesday at home and the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks on the road Friday night.
First, for the Bucks. Here are three things to watch for tonight at Madison Square Garden:
1. CONTAINING THE BUCKS' BACKCOURT
The Knicks have already had to deal with lightning quick and sneaky smooth Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings twice this season. In their first matchup on Jan. 20 at the Garden, a 100-86 Bucks win, Jennings scored a season-high 36 points on 6-for-12 shooting from beyond the arc. Now, he's joined by one of the best up-and-coming shooting guards in the game, Monta Ellis (21.0 points per game), who was acquired from the Warriors before the March 15 trade deadline.
While Mike Woodson didn't provide a Plan B starting five without Amare Stoudemire (sore lower back), during Monday morning's shootaround at the Knicks' training facility he used Iman Shumpert at shooting guard, moved Landry Fields to the three and made Carmelo Anthony the power forward. Shumpert on the Bucks' lightning-quick shooting guard Ellis could be a key defensive matchup in the game.
2. PROTECT THE OFFENSIVE GLASS
Tyson Chandler said that while Stoudemire's potential absence will be felt, he's confident the bench will compensate for the loss. "I've been saying all year that our team is very deep," he said after shootaround.
That has to especially happen on the boards against the Bucks, who outrebounded the Knicks 17-9 on the offensive glass in their 119-114 win on March 9. Bucks center Drew Gooden, who's now starting in place for Andrew Bogut who was traded to Golden State, had five offensive rebounds, while backup big man Larry Sanders had six.
With Jared Jeffries already out (approximately two weeks with right knee inflammation), if Stoudemire misses tonight as well, it's likely Jerome Jordan could see some extra playing time. Woodson said before the Pistons game Saturday night that he would consider sending Jordan back to the D-League so he could get some games under his belt. But why not tonight?
3. KNICKS' THIRD-QUARTER DEFENSE
The biggest issue plaguing the Knicks in the third period is poor defense. In the first, second and fourth periods, they hold opponents to 41.3, 41.8 and 41.8 percent, respectively, but in the third, that number jumps to 49.4. And that's exactly why under Woodson, a coach who preaches defense more than Mike D'Antoni, the Knicks have won the third-quarter margin more recently. But it still has to improve.
"It's just my job to make sure that doesn't creep back in," Woodson said. "We've just got to consistently play for 48 minutes and see what happens."
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