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.

Knicks Look for Way to Combine Lin and Davis

The most intriguing image, however, was the sight of and Baron Davis playing together in the backcourt. In games, Davis, a former All-Star who is working his way back to full fitness after a herniated disk, backs up Lin at point guard. On Wednesday night, , Lin played 33 minutes and Davis 15.

For the moment, at least, it is a ratio that keeps Lin from being overworked and allows Davis enough minutes to scrape off the rust after .

But on a Knicks team that is suddenly much deeper than it was, with a revitalized second unit challenging the starters in practice and in games, putting Lin and Davis together gives Coach one more option as he tries to figure out ways to get a lot of players sufficient playing time.

On Friday, when they were playing as a tandem, Davis ran the offense and Lin worked hard off the ball. Afterward, Davis seemed to relish the idea of their combination, telling reporters that Lin would be “extremely effective” in that setup.

Explaining it in the context of the Knicks’ offense, Davis said: “Whoever has the ball is the guy making plays. Everybody else is spacing, waiting for opportunities to make the secondary play. So you put Jeremy on the ball, he’s going to make plays. You swing the ball to him with somebody running at him, he’s even more dangerous, you know what I mean? Because the defense has already been broken down.”

Lin, drenched in sweat, called Davis a “great mentor,” and noted that he played off the ball often at Harvard.

“I’m comfortable doing it,” Lin said. “I don’t have to have all the ball-handling responsibilities.”

D’Antoni said: “They can play together. Whether you want that or not, we’ll see. Because that means either J. R., Shumpert, Novak, Melo; somebody is not playing.”

Divvying up the point-guard minutes has the potential to be a sensitive issue for the Knicks because of Davis’s status as a star player when healthy. If he feels capable of playing more minutes in the weeks ahead, he could begin to feel frustrated if he is not. Putting him together with Lin is one way around that issue.

Actually, the Knicks are looking at everything these days, including advanced metrics. At Thursday’s practice, Lin mentioned that the Knicks players were being shown statistical breakdowns that revealed points scored per 100 possessions, a newer, and increasingly popular way to measure success on offense. Lin said he was not aware of advanced statistics at Harvard, and credited the Knicks’ coaching staff with providing a tutorial.

“We just showed the team where they stand leaguewide,” D’Antoni said when asked about the metrics. “That our defense is getting better and our offense was really bad.”

With most teams sending representatives to the sixth annual in Boston this weekend, the Knicks say they do not want to be left behind. They, too, are aware of how the game is changing.

“Statistics, most teams do it,” D’Antoni said. “We’re trying to evolve and use it even more as a tool. Again, nothing is definitive in the sense of, ‘O.K., stats say this, this is what we’re doing.’ ”

“Numbers, they can lie to you, too,” he added. “So you’ve got be careful about only numbers. You have to have a sense of how the team’s playing, mentally how they feel.”

Nevertheless, statistics, both traditional and advanced, will come into play as D’Antoni and his staff try to figure out how to divide 48 minutes by 9 or 10 or 11 players.

“I think you use all the tools you have,” he said. Including pairing Davis and Lin.

Baron Davis Adapts to Limited Role With Knicks

At practice on Thursday, Davis described it as “kind of like one of those games where the monkey’s off your back, as far as knowing that, O.K., I am in the game and I am a part of the team, and I know that I can do certain things out there to help this team win.”

The are still being cautious with Davis, who is recovering from a herniated disk in his back, by limiting him to 15 minutes a game. Those minutes at point guard will help spell , whom Coach jokingly compared to the horse Secretariat a few weeks ago because of how hard he had to ride him.

Being a backup is unfamiliar to Davis. Since his rookie season, Davis has come off the bench only 52 times in his 13-year career.

Lin recounted a conversation he and Davis had Thursday about their roles as teammates in the weeks ahead. The theme was trying to combine their statistics to meet a “point guard goal.”

“Not necessarily need X and X, but us together need to get this many assists and this many turnovers,” Lin said.

Lin discussed being a Davis fan when Davis and the Warriors pulled off a first-round playoff upset against the Mavericks in 2007. “I watched every single one of those up until 1 in the morning by myself in my dorm at Harvard,” Lin said. “Just growing up a lifelong Warriors fan, so I remember everything.”

At team practices, the Knicks’ revamped second unit, which includes Davis, has fared well in scrimmages, D’Antoni said.

“Every day in practice we are challenging them, and we are kicking their butts,” Davis said.