The Knicks spoiled the Heat’s chance to clinch the Southeast Division crown in New York last night. New York was a +450 underdog and was getting as many as nine points in the spread, but led just about the whole way, ballooned its lead to 30 at one point and ended up winning by 24.
Enes Kanter did not make his return from back and wrist injuries and he almost certainly won’t tonight either. Michael Beasley suited up after missing the Knicks’ last game with an illness but he hurt his knee 18 seconds into the game and didn’t return. Tim Hardaway Jr. sprained his ankle in the third quarter and looks like he won’t play tonight, or for the rest of the season, for that matter.
All of those injuries, plus this being the second night of a back-to-back all factor into the Knicks getting nearly double-digits at home for the second night in a row. They are +9.5 with a total up around 220 against the Bucks, who are looking to stay out of the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference.
Milwaukee really wants to win this game. The Bucks got into the 7-seed last night by virtue of Washington’s loss to the Hawks. Now, they would like to stay there.
A 7th-place finish would mean a first round matchup with Boston, which would be a competitive series. The Celtics are without Kyrie Irving but still have home court advantage and a superior coach. I believe Boston would win that series, but the Bucks certainly believe they have a better chance in that series than going to Toronto, which is what the 8-seed will do.
There’s also still a chance Milwaukee can make up two games on Miami before the season ends and grab the 6-seed, which, as of now, would mean a first round matchup against Philadelphia that could be without Joel Embiid. The Sixers are hot but playoff basketball isn’t comparable to the final month of the regular season and Philly’s roster doesn’t have much playoff experience. Whether it be to earn a first round matchup with Boston or Philly, Milwaukee wants to win out to avoid that match with Toronto, despite taking the Raptors to seven last season.
The Knicks, as an organization, would prefer to lose these last three games but it didn’t look that way last night. There were so many young players without any sort of NBA reputation in the game, the Knicks played scrappy basketball and won going away. They were perpetual motion and looked like a team made up of guys hungry to earn a place.
A second round pick a year ago, Damyean Dotson scored 30 points; he came into the game with 89 points in 39 games prior. Luke Kornet, who was undrafted after graduating from Vanderbilt last year, also hit a career-high with 17 on four three-point baskets. Trey Burke made a lot of it all happen and scored 17 of his own.
Look, the Knicks were sensational last night and they won’t be nearly as good tonight. They don’t have to be, either. I’m not sure the back-to-back is going to bother all these young guys at this point in the season, though Milwaukee won’t take this team lightly after seeing what it did last night.
It still seems as though to me that the Knicks are a great play tonight, based on how they moved and played as a single unit last night and given that FiveThirtyEight gives them around a 40 percent chance to win this game straight-up. Milwaukee should win but I’ll take New York to keep it at single-digits.
Free Pick: New York +9.5