Following Carmelo Anthony's Easter Sunday heroics against the Bulls, there was no doubt that Chicago was going to come out all guns blazing on Tuesday night, ready to avenge the astonishing loss.
The Knicks caught a break with the news that Derrick Rose would be sitting out the game with an injury. The league M.V.P. would not be available to return the favor to Anthony and force his team to suffer a loss.
Instead, it would be NBA champion and three-time All-Star Richard Hamilton who turned back the clock against the Knicks to help the Bulls pull away with a 98-86 victory. The 34 year old scored double-digit points in the third quarter, on his way to pouring in a team-leading 20 points in the contest. Though the Knicks were able to keep their heads above water and stay in the game heading into the second half, the Bulls used a third quarter run to help them ultimately secure the win.
Still holding the Bulls under 100 for the game, the Knicks' solid enough defensive effort was paced by anchor Tyson Chandler, who had 16 boards, and Anthony, who grabbed four steals of his own.
Though their defense was strong, the problems that plagued New York in this loss were all too familiar. There was little to no ball movement throughout the game, and their offense fell stagnant. Anthony was able to carry the Knicks with his 43 points and long-range daggers on Sunday, but his 29 points weren't enough to propel the team to victory last night.
Anthony and J.R. Smith, another swingman who thrives in isolation situations on offense, have both been the Knicks' top options on offense during the absences of Amar'e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin. That said, without an efficient point guard, the likes of Steve Novak, Landry Fields, and even the team's big men struggle to find their way in the flow of the offense. Starting point guard Baron Davis did have six assists in the game, but simply didn't do enough to effectively get his teammates the ball throughout.
The Knicks will be on enemy grounds once again tonight as they take on the Bucks in Milwaukee. Clearly a game with playoff implications, the contest stands to be the most crucial game of the season, with the Knicks looking to hold the Bucks back and secure a playoff spot of their own. The key to the game will be shutting down Brandon Jennings, who carries a vendetta against the Knicks for passing on him in the 2009 NBA draft and comes out to prove himself each and every game against New York.
Jennings, who is averaging a career-high 18.7 points on the season, has led the Bucks to a 4-1 record so far this month. It's clear the Knicks are looking to move up the playoff ladder enough to potentially catch the 76ers and/or the Celtics, but that simply won't be possible if they can't hold the Bucks back. As well as the Knicks have played under Coach Mike Woodson, that's how closely the Bucks have been breathing down their necks along the way.
Hopeful of getting things going offensively and finding a rhythm, the Knicks will surely look to Steve Novak to catch fire once again in his hometown. Novak, the NBA's leading three-point shooter, has missed his last seven attempts from long range. Completely shut down by the Bulls, the two contests marked the first pair of back to back games in which Novak has not made a single three-point shot. His production certainly appears crucial in any potential victory tonight.