By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Bucks | Madison Square Garden
When: Wednesday | 7:30 PM
Where to Watch: MSG (Find Channel)
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York: Looking to build on 54 wins and an Atlantic Division championship last season, the Knicks kick off a new campaign tonight against Milwaukee -- the same team they faced a week ago in Green Bay. But that was preseason. Coach Mike Woodson and his staff were busy evaluating how new additions like Andrea Bargnani, Beno Udrih and Metta World Peace would fit into his rotation, and how close rookies like Tim Hardaway Jr. are to contributing. Now the games count, so it's a whole different ballgame. After processing it all, Woodson is optimistic that the team is capable of scoring like last season (4th in offensive efficiency), and that a league-average defense can take a step forward this year.
Milwaukee: It's a fresh start for the Bucks, who earned the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs a year ago. Brandon Jennings (Detroit) and Monta Ellis (Dallas) are both gone, and with them so are the 33 shots and 37 points they produced per game last season. Milwaukee has chosen to invest in a young, long front line, signing center Larry Sanders to a multiyear extension and drafting 6-9, 19-year old Greek small forward Giannis Antetokounmpo to go with 6-11 John Henson. They replace Ellis with O.J. Mayo -- who is bigger, better defensively and a better 3-point shooter -- and Jennings with a mix of Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour. They also traded for veteran Caron Butler to solidify the wing.
The Numbers Game
The Knicks dominated the possession battle in 2012-13, committing the fewest turnovers (12.05) AND producing the most steals (6.38) per game in the entire NBA.
Matchup to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. O.J. Mayo
Coach Woodson challenged Shump this preseason, and the third-year wing responded by shooting 51 percent from the field and 44 percent from three. He seized a starting spot, leaving what position he'd play as the only question. For now, it's shooting guard and tonight, it'll be opposite Mayo -- the man tasked with providing scoring punch for a team that finished 22nd in offensive efficiency last year. He can shoot from deep (38% career) and looks to attack when he gets the ball, so staying disciplined on D is key for Shumpert.
What to Look For
After starting Bargnani in all seven preseason games, Woodson hinted that he may opt to use Carmelo Anthony at power forward in small lineups when possible. "We've been successful with Melo playing a lot of four," he said yesterday. "I don't want to go away from it a lot, in terms of him playing at the four spot, but I have options." Thanks to the of the versatility of World Peace and Shumpert and two capable point guards behind Raymond Felton (Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih), he is clearly comfortable mixing and matching to find the right combination. With the Bucks' length, we'll see how much Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire play after sitting out most of the preseason.