With the season winding down, the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks both recognize the importance of their final meeting as they fight for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Trying to hold off the Bucks, the Knicks will look to prevent them from taking the season series when the teams meet Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
One game separates Milwaukee (28-29) from eighth-place New York (29-28) in the East. Neither team helped its cause its last time out, with the Bucks falling 109-89 to Oklahoma City on Monday and the Knicks losing 98-86 at Chicago on Tuesday.
While New York defeated Milwaukee 89-80 in the most recent meeting March 26, the Bucks won the first two and could capture the season series and the head-to-head tiebreaker with a victory Wednesday.
"It's a must win," New York's Carmelo Anthony said. "It's probably one of the biggest games of the season for us. We've got to be ready."
Milwaukee's loss to the Thunder on Monday snapped a four-game winning streak. The Bucks were outscored 35-18 in the first quarter and couldn't recover, trailing by as many as 28 points.
"For sure that's not going to happen Wednesday," Brandon Jennings said of the poor start.
Bucks coach Scott Skiles emphasized the importance of coming out quickly and playing with high energy Wednesday.
"Win or lose, are we playing like we understand the magnitude of the moment, and the type of energy we need to come out and compete?" Skiles said.
The Bucks are looking for a better defensive game than they had against the Thunder - the first opponent to score 100 points against them in seven games - particularly since points could be at a premium against New York's improved defense.
Milwaukee averaged 109.5 points in the first two meetings with the Knicks, with Jennings totaling 61 in those victories. He was held to 15 on 6-of-22 shooting in last month's loss, part of New York's 11-4 stretch under interim coach Mike Woodson.
The Knicks have held opponents to an average of 89.2 points in those games after yielding 96.5 before that. Monta Ellis said the Bucks plan to respond by pushing the pace.
"Really get out and run, don't let their defense set," Ellis said.
The Knicks couldn't defeat the Bulls for a second straight game after beating them 100-99 in overtime at home Sunday. In Chicago on Tuesday, they were outrebounded 51-33, giving up 18 offensive boards.
Anthony, who had 43 points in Sunday's victory, finished with 29 and Tyson Chandler added 10 points and 15 rebounds.
The Knicks have been effective at building early leads thanks to their defense lately, giving up an average of 42.4 points on 40.4 percent shooting in the first half under Woodson. The Bulls, however, turned the tables by holding New York to 10 points in the second quarter Tuesday.
Still playing without Jeremy Lin and Amare Stoudemire, the Knicks will try to urgently address their road woes. They've lost four of five and 10 of their last 13 on the road, also dropping four in a row in Milwaukee.
"We've got to leave it all on the floor," Chandler said.