The New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks are struggling and under .500, but Friday night's matchup at the Bradley Center will still have some bearing on the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
Milwaukee looks to shave a game off New York's lead for the eighth and final postseason spot in the East as it tries to continue its recent dominance in the series.
The Knicks (18-21) have lost three straight and six of nine following a season-high seven-game win streak that coincided with Jeremy Lin seeing more action and moving into the starting lineup.
Despite its struggles, New York is in eighth place in the conference, leading Milwaukee (15-24) and Cleveland by three games.
With the Big East tournament being played at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks embarked on a four-game road trip Sunday and have dropped the first three. They fell 115-111 in overtime to Boston on Sunday, 95-85 to Dallas on Tuesday and 118-105 to San Antonio on Wednesday.
Poor shooting has doomed New York on the trip, with Lin and Carmelo Anthony making 38.6 percent of their field-goal attempts. Anthony bounced back from a 2-for-12 shooting night against the Mavericks to score 27 points while making 12 of 24 shots Wednesday.
Anthony is averaging 21.2 points and shooting a career-low 40.1 percent. His scoring average is his lowest since his second season in the NBA in 2004-05, and New York is 2-5 since he returned from a groin injury that cost him seven games.
The Knicks won six of those seven contests, when Linsanity was at its peak.
"You have to work through. But there's no reason why it can't co-exist," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "There's no reason why everybody shouldn't do well. We just got to find the right balance of everybody getting into their spots."
D'Antoni made a change against the Spurs, inserting rookie guard Iman Shumpert into the starting lineup in place of Landry Fields. Shumpert shot 1 for 5 while Fields scored eight points on 4-of-8 shooting.
New York played without starting center Tyson Chandler, who missed his first game of the season due to a strained hamstring. His status for Friday is uncertain.
The Knicks could certainly use him to help slow down Milwaukee's Drew Gooden, who's averaging 20.5 points and 8.2 rebounds in six games since missing four with a wrist injury.
He had a season-high 27 points Wednesday night and Ersan Ilyasova scored a career-best 32, but it wasn't enough as the Bucks lost 106-104 at home to Chicago on Derrick Rose's jumper at the buzzer.
"It hurts a lot that we lost this one, just the fact that we played so hard for 48 minutes," point guard Brandon Jennings said. "Guys were down there battling."
Milwaukee has dropped 13 of 18 but seems to have a good chance to get on track Friday, as it's won 11 of 13 against New York.
Jennings has played a big part in that success, averaging 20.1 points in going 7-1 against the Knicks since entering the league in 2009-10.
He scored a season-high 36 points to outduel Anthony, who had 35, in a 100-86 win at MSG on Jan. 20.
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This is a must win before they face the bulls they need to get the confidence up again. I'm glad that they have been having a good time on the court and playing together but they are becoming very conceited with their standing. right now it looks like they can coast to an 8th seed. But that is not good enough and not the kind of attitude you want from the players on the team going into the home stretch.
Damn! no Tyson Chandler and no Jefferies defensive-leadership for this Bucks game....
I was suprise to find out 95% of our wins this season came from Jefferies 4th qtr. defensive-hustle....
our last 3 games vs Celtics, Mavs, Spurs, Jefferies didnt receive any playingtime during
the 4th qtr....which resulted in Knicks losses.
The few games when we had the trio of "Tyson, Jefferies, and Shump" in a lineup....
I knew we were going to WIN, especially when the trio-lineup played in the 4th qtr.