For the Milwaukee Bucks, a rematch against the New York Knicks on Wednesday night is a chance to exact some revenge for a surprising loss five nights earlier.
For the Knicks, another clash against the defending NBA champions is an opportunity to find out if playing contenders really does raise New York’s game.
The Bucks and Knicks will each be looking to establish some momentum Wednesday night, when Milwaukee is slated to visit New York in the second of the four scheduled regular-season games between the Eastern Conference rivals.
Both teams are coming off much-needed road victories over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bucks began a back-to-back set Tuesday by overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit in a 118-109 win. A night earlier, the Knicks bounced back from their most lopsided loss of the season by outlasting the hosts, 103-96.
The win Tuesday was the second in the last seven games for the Bucks, who are 5-6 through 11 games after winning the NBA title for the first time since 1970 last season.
The most jarring loss thus far was suffered last Friday, when the Bucks squandered a 21-point lead against the visiting Knicks and fell, 113-98. Milwaukee still appeared to be feeling the effects of the loss Sunday, when it trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half of a 101-94 loss to the Washington Wizards.
But the Bucks were able to produce a finishing kick Tuesday, when superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo had nine points and seven rebounds as Milwaukee outscored the 76ers 27-16 in the fourth quarter.
“I think he had that extra — just competitiveness tonight,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said of Antetokounmpo, who finished with 31 points and 16 rebounds. “He can do some unique things, and I think he did it multiple times tonight. I think there was just that extra desire, that extra competitive gear that he needed (and) that we needed.”
The Knicks’ leader, Julius Randle, provided a valuable late boost Monday by scoring 20 of his 31 points in the second half as he helped New York fend off a comeback by the 76ers, who trailed by 19 points in the first half before closing within one point five times in the final two quarters.
The Knicks have won two of their last five — a topsy-turvy stretch defined by Friday’s win over the Bucks, when New York overcame a 20-point deficit to win by at least 10 points for the first time since the NBA started tracking play-by-play in box scores in 1997-98, and Sunday’s 126-109 loss to the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers.
Overall this season, the Knicks are 3-0 against the 76ers and Bucks, who finished first and third, respectively, in the Eastern Conference last season, and 4-4 against everyone else.
“All of us (are) learning and figuring each other out and stuff like that,” Randle said. “So we’ll keep building on that.”
The Knicks may be without two of their centers Wednesday. Mitchell Robinson didn’t play Monday due to a hip injury while Nerlens Noel exited after just 12:21 due to a sore left knee.