7:30 P.M. EST
Madison Square Garden
There are two noteworthy things about this game tonight:
1) The Knicks want you to come down to the Garden so badly that they are giving away longsleeve DECLARE t-shirts and $20 worth of food & merchandise vouchers with certain ticket purchase. And that's if you didn't take them up on the "Guys Night Out" deal that netted 2 tickets, 2 popcorns, 2 shirts, and 2 beers for just $79. That second deal is the first time I ever remember seeing alcohol being involved in a Knicks ticket promotion. Finally! We're breaking ground every day.
2) Nate Robinson may start in place of Chris Duhon. Hmmmm..... I wonder if there is any connection between the benching of the previous starter at the point and the fact that the team is literally giving away stuff to lure fans. I wonder.
Both the Knickerbockers and the Bucks are on the outside looking in right now. They're cheeks flush from cold and their noses leaking snot as they press to the window to watch the Eastern Conference playoff teams. The Bucks are in the ninth spot right now and the Knicks are two and a half game back of them in tenth. This is a marquee Underworld matchup. The Bucks won the first meeting between these clubs and the Knicks need to win tonight if they hope to win the three-game season series and hold a tiebreaker over a team they're battling.
Coming off a win, fueled by a lineup change and playing at home, the Knicks are getting three points from Vegas. This means that the oddmakers pretty much thing this is a pick 'em and are giving the home team the benefit of one Gallo three-pointer. ESPN.com's Accuscore leans more definitively toward the home side, quote a 62% chance of success. I'm too focused on Super Bowl prop bets to worry about this line too much. Let's just say, that the Knicks should win this game if they come out with a solid effort in each quarter.
The story of this game is point guard play. Can Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings rebound from another poor outing? After a tremendously hot start, that had everyone piling on the Knicks for passing on Jennings, the none-and-done rookie has come back down to earth. On the other bench, this will be a telling game for Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. He's indicated that Nate Robinson has earned a spot in the starting lineup (or, at least that, Chris Duhon has earned himself a spot on the bench) after his play in the second half on Wednesday night against Washington. How much leeway does Nate get? Is he going to be expected to turn the ball over to David Lee at the top of the arc on most possessions? Is Larry Hughes the backup point guard? What is Duhon's role? After all, he can't score and he generally doesn't defend his own position. The depth of Duhon's slump and his lack of a quantifiable off-the-bench skill makes me wonder if he'll be dropped from the rotation altogether.
Another key figure in this drama is actually Al Harrington. With Nate in the starting lineup, Harrington is the only gun coming off the bench. If the starters get off to a slow start then Al has to be the one to ignite them since Nate will already be out there. After defending Duhon for so long (at the expense of acquiring potential replacements like Ramon Sessions, who the Bucks let walk this offseason) it is a big deal that D'Antoni has demoted him. But, Robinson, Hughes and Harrington need to step up and play to their potential. Hughes needs to stay aggressive on defense and opportunistic on offense while Robinson and Harrington need to stay under control on offense. By staying relatively disciplined on the offensive end they can keep D'Antoni from feeling that he needs Duhon on the floor to keep the game from turning into a series of one-on-one forays.