Five takeaways from another “moral victory” as the 1-3 Knicks took the unbeaten Bucks down to the final 1:30 before being outscored 16-6 to close, dropping a 124-113 decision Monday night in Brew City.
1. The current starting lineup has one more game to prove itself, otherwise David Fizdale will change things up, likely at power forward with Mario Hezonja or Noah Vonleh replacing Lance Thomas. As much as Thomas is the club’s emotional leader, his lack of offense hurts. The 30-year-old defensive specialist was shut out against Boston and notched four points in 18 minutes in Milwaukee. Hezonja’s confidence was crashing after Saturday’s Boston benching and getting called out on Twitter by a former Knicks executive, but he rose up in Milwaukee.
Hezonja notched 18 points, scoring in various ways: from the 3-point line, driving to the hoop and hitting mid-range pull-ups. He was rewarded with a season-high 30 minutes. He also banged hard with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Starting might be the extra boost Hezonja needs. Fizdale also could choose Vonleh, who is all energy all the time and has more of an offensive flourish right now than Thomas. Vonleh notched 11 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes.
“Maybe I’ll look at tweaking something if we can’t get that group going,” Fizdale said. “I don’t want to do it to the detriment of the second unit. That unit is building some nice chemistry. I’ll get into the film after the Miami game and really evaluate the five games of basketball, assess it and make decisions from there.”
The quintet that is overperforming is Frank Ntilikina alongside four bench guys in Hezonja, Vonleh, Allonzo Trier and Damyean Dotson.
2. Dotson was asking for the Giants-Falcons score in the visitor’s locker room in Milwaukee’s new arena. A Houston product, Dotson played football in high school as a receiver and quarterback but isn’t a Texans, Falcons or Giants fan.
“I just love football,” Dotson said.
And Fizdale is falling for the solidly built Dotson, who is more like a tight end at 6-6, 212. After being a DNP in the first two games, Dotson is filling Kevin Knox’s shoes well. The 2017 second-round pick pumped in 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting and drained 4-of-8 3-pointers in Milwaukee after his successful season debut in Boston.
“Dot has really earned his way in the rotation on this team,” Fizdale said. “He’s so reliable and tough and the shooting really helps.”
Dotson is also a Phil Jackson/Clarence Gaines Jr. draft pick, which could explain how he started the season out of the 11-man rotation.
3. In Milwaukee, neither of the Knicks’ 2018 draft picks played. Knox was back home getting treatment on his sprained ankle and their second-rounder, center Mitchell Robinson, was a DNP. It was his second DNP in three games. He’s played 11 minutes total across four games. Once the G League starts in early November, Robinson will get his run. Knicks GM Scott Perry was dismissive of Robinson playing in the G League during the summer, but it was wishful thinking.
4. Courtney Lee, after undergoing tests on his balky neck, may join the team in Miami. With Knox out at least two weeks, this would be a time to finally get the 33-year-old veteran action, though he missed all of preseason and the first four games. In truth, Lee would be more valuable to the Heat for their playoff-contending season with Dion Waiters still rehabbing from ankle surgery and Jimmy Butler trade talks on hold.
5. Fizdale mentioned making a halftime adjustment in an attempt to stymie Milwaukee’s torrid 3-point shooting. And it worked for a while when the Bucks shot 1-of-13 in the third quarter. That 94-feet, pressure defense didn’t work against the Bucks.
“We were picking up fullcourt and trying to be too aggressive on the defensive end,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “It helped get them get easy penetrations to the basket and they could get kickouts to their shooters and cause us [to get] in scramble mode really early in the shot clock. I guess that’s what we wanted to do.”
Hardaway said the club started to “trust one another in our halfcourt defense.”
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