Bucks try to keep pressure on vs. winless Knicks

NBA Milwaukee

Two games into the season, the Milwaukee Bucks look a lot like they did during the 2019-20 campaign. Unfortunately for the New York Knicks, the same thing can be said about them.

The Bucks, fresh off a dominant Christmas Day performance, will look to continue building momentum Sunday night, when they visit the winless Knicks.

The Bucks bounced back from a one-point loss in Wednesday’s season opener by throttling the visiting Golden State Warriors, 138-99, in a Christmas Day matinee. The Knicks endured another second-half fade Saturday night, when they fell to the visiting Philadelphia 76ers, 109-89.

The Bucks didn’t need much in Friday’s game from superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 15 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in just under 27 minutes. But Khris Middleton, already a pretty good Robin to Antetokounmpo’s Batman, provided evidence he might be taking another step forward by scoring 31 points on just 15 attempts from the field. Middleton aided his efficiency by going 6-of-8 from 3-point land.

Last season, when the Bucks went an NBA-best 56-17 in the regular season before falling to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Middleton posted career bests in almost every major offensive category, including points per game (20.9), rebounds (6.2), field goal percentage (49.7 percent) and free throw percentage (91.6 percent).

While his numbers are likely to come down from the small-sample-size highs of his first two games (in which he’s scored 58 points and recorded 18 rebounds while shooting 57.1 percent from the field and a perfect 9-of-9 from the free throw line), his improvement is indicative of the Bucks’ efforts to build a title contender around Antetokounmpo.

“He puts a lot of time and effort in, and I think his desire to be great, his desire to keep improving, be more efficient — it’s impressive,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “That’s part of kind of our mantra. We want to get better everyday, get better every game, year-to-year. And he’s really embraced that. He puts his time in in the weight room, he puts his time in (on) the court, and it translates to games. I think that’s kind of what we want to be about.”

The Knicks are trying yet again to redefine themselves, but the first two games of the season are unfolding a lot like the last two decades. New York led the Indiana Pacers 66-61 at halftime of Wednesday’s season opener and trailed the 76ers 60-55 at halftime Saturday.

But the Knicks, who have just two players older than 26 on their active roster, have shown their inexperience in being outscored 119-75 in the second half of the two games, including 59-34 on Saturday.

“It’s a team thing, so it’s not any one particular person,” first-year Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We share in all of it. Our responsibility is to improve. Each and every day, come in, put everything you have into it. The games reveal exactly where we are. And obviously, it’s showing us that we have a lot of work to do. So we have to learn from each experience, and we have to get better.”

A pair of Knicks rookies, Obi Toppin (right calf) and Immanuel Quickley (hip), missed Saturday’s game with injuries. Quickley is day-to-day while Toppin is expected to miss at least a week.

–Field Level Media

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