Bucks, Despite Loss to Knicks, Are Threat in N.B.A. Playoff Race

The Knicks’ regular starting backcourt consists of an undrafted player from Harvard (Jeremy Lin) and a second-round pick from Stanford (Landry Fields). The Bucks’ starting shooting guard, Monta Ellis, entered the N.B.A. straight out of high school, and their point guard, Brandon Jennings, skipped college to play a year in Italy.

Lin did not play on Monday because of a knee injury, and Fields shifted to the front court and scored only 2 points, but Ellis and Jennings struggled with their shooting as Milwaukee fell two and a half games behind the Knicks.

Whereas the Knicks have frontcourt players with All-Star pedigrees in Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, the Bucks’ forwards and centers are a cast of journeymen and unknowns, although one by one they are earning more acclaim.

Drew Gooden, a forward who started at center against the Knicks, was the Eastern Conference’s player of the week a week ago. “It surprised me because I didn’t play in the fourth quarter of two of those games,” said Gooden, who is on his ninth team.

Gooden followed the Turkish forward Ersan Ilyasova, who picked up the honor earlier in March.

On Monday, though, the Bucks’ top threat was Mike Dunleavy, who scored 24 points in 13 brilliant first-half minutes. At the height of his run, Dunleavy was playing like the former Knicks killer Reggie Miller. His pump fakes sent Knicks defenders needlessly airborne, and his 3-pointers elicited knowing groans from the crowd. Dunleavy hit 9 of his first 10 shots in the half, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range.

“When you get a hot start like that, it’s hard to hold it up,” said Dunleavy, who had only 2 points on 1-of-4 shooting after halftime. “Everybody in the building knows what’s going on, that they’re not going to leave you.”

Dunleavy missed two free throws after throwing himself into Josh Harrellson while shooting, then fired up an air ball. And he clanged a 3-pointer from the wing at an important juncture.

Dunleavy’s early hot streak could not mask an 8-for-36 shooting night from Jennings and Ellis and their nine combined turnovers.

“I think the main thing is, man, we couldn’t make shots,” Jennings said. “I mean, we missed a lot of gimmes, a lot of open shots, a lot of shots that we usually make.”

Monday’s loss was not a death knell for the Bucks’ playoff aspirations because the remaining schedule favors them. The Bucks play eight teams currently not in playoff positions, and 11 of their final 17 games are at home. Their only elite opponent is the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Meanwhile, excluding a matchup against the Bucks on April 11 in Milwaukee, the Knicks have five games remaining against teams not holding playoff spots. In their last 16 games, the Knicks are at home seven times and have to face the Chicago Bulls twice and the Miami Heat once. While the so far puts them in the middle of the pack, the Knicks have had the league’s easiest path.

“We’re hanging in there,” Bucks Coach Scott Skiles said before the game. “We’ve given ourselves a chance. When we were 4-9 and 0-8 on the road, it looked like we were going to fall off a cliff, so the guys have battled back.”

He added: “Everybody’s had their ups and downs. We had an awful January, an awful start to our season, and the schedule was: we were on the road the whole time, basically. And now it comes back to us.”

Correction: March 27, 2012

A previous version of this article misstated the number of home games in the Bucks’ final 17 games. Eleven of their final 17 games are at home, not 8.

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