Tonight marks the dawn of a new era in the NBA. The New York Knicks (2-3) face the heavily favored Milwaukee Bucks (2-2) tonight for the inaugural game of the NBA’s latest endeavor, the In-Season Tournament. Side rant—if a sub-.500 record team hoists the “cup” at the end of this tournament, but misses the NBA playoffs, it raises a pertinent question: Can such a season genuinely be deemed a success by any measure? It’s a perplexing conundrum that underscores the complexity of this new venture.
In a league where the practice of resting players for load management has become increasingly prevalent, the introduction of an additional and seemingly inconsequential “championship” game, where statistics won’t be accounted for, raises eyebrows. Imagine a scenario in which LeBron James broke Kareem’s all-time scoring record during that tournament game? It wouldn’t have counted. One can’t even fathom Steven A. Smith’s rant the following morning. This is a new era. One that is set to be a huge money maker for the league, which means much like sponsorship patches on uniforms, it is here to stay.
Side rant over.
The Milwaukee Bucks, a team widely anticipated to be a formidable contender for this year’s NBA Championship, have stumbled out of the gate, displaying a sluggish start to the season. They look awkward out there. The dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and Giannis antetokounmpo has yet to mesh. Tuesday night’s 130-111 loss to the Raptors has only intensified concerns that the Bucks are yet to find their rhythm, resembling a squad still in preseason form. Antetokounmpo tallied just 16 points and four rebounds Tuesday night. In comparison, his averages from last season—31.1 points per game, 11.8 rebounds per game, 5.7 assists—have significantly dropped to 24.5 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, and 2.5 assists per game through this season’s first four games. This drop was perhaps expected with the addition of Damian Lillard to the roster, but the anticipation was that Lillard would more than compensate for the difference. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case.
Damian Lillard, renowned for his scoring prowess, has displayed a lackluster performance through the team’s first four games. Lillard finished with 15 points and six assists on Tuesday, just two games since he shot 2-of-12 from the field and scored six points against the Miami Heat on October 29th. Coming into tonight’s game, His averages of 21.3 points per game, 4.8 assists, and 2.3 three-pointers made per game stand in stark contrast to his impressive career averages of 32.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.2 three-pointers per game, which he achieved just last season on 40% FG. Lillard’s career average from the field of 44% has never dipped below 40% for a season. Lillard’s 21.3 PPG is his lowest since 2014-15.
The Knicks have their own set of problems. A mere five games into the season, a disheartening 95-89 loss at the Garden on Wednesday has already pushed them below the .500 mark. Julius Randle’s abysmal shooting percentage this season currently stands at a meager 28%, a far cry from his career average of 47%. Randle finished with six points, six rebounds, and four assists in Tuesday’s loss. His 13.2 PPG through the first five games is nearly half of the 25.1 PPG he averaged last season. Knicks fans had spent all summer wondering which Julius Randle they would get this year. Through the first five games, the answer has been pretty evident over the first five games.
- G- Damian Lillard 0
- G- Malik Beasley #5
- F- Khris Middleton #22
- F- Giannis Antetokounmpo #34
- C- Brook Lopez #11
New York Knicks:
- G- Jalen Brunson
- G- Quentin Grimes
- F- RJ Barrett
- F- Julius Randle
- C- Mitchell Robinson
Jalen Brunson, the lone bright spot for the Knicks on Wednesday, showcased his prowess with an impressive stat line of 24 points, four rebounds, and four assists. However, the challenges don’t stop for him, as he’s tasked with going head-to-head with Lillard. To keep pace with the Bucks, Brunson must deliver another stellar performance.
The Knicks are in for another formidable test against the Bucks, and it won’t be an easy one. Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson will have their hands full as they try to contain Milwaukee’s dynamic duo. The rest of the Knicks squad will similarly face the challenge of taking on a deep Bucks roster that includes the likes of Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, Malik Beasley, and former Knick Bobby Portis.
Bucks by eight.
Tonight’s ESPN nationally broadcast game is set to tipoff at 7:30 PM. Let’s bring home the cup.
Who: New York Knicks at Milwaukee Bucks
When: 7:30 pm EST, Friday, Nov. 3
Where: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI
Watch: MSG Network, ESPN