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Knicks hope to get RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox going again and keep Bucks in check this time

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks puts up a

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks puts up a shot for a basket during the fourth quarter against Mitchell Robinson of the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 21, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The last time the Knicks faced the Bucks in Milwaukee, Mike Miller was an assistant coach.  But a lot has changed since then.

A 132-88 loss to the Bucks on Dec. 2 — followed by a 129-92 loss to the Nuggets at home three days later — prompted the Knicks to part ways with David Fizdale and install Miller as the interim coach. The Knicks have gone 7-11 under Miller entering Tuesday night’s game in Milwaukee.

The Bucks also beat the Knicks, 123-102, on Dec. 21 at Madison Square Garden. Milwaukee (35-6) has hit the halfway point of the season on a 70-win pace. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 29.8 points, 12.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists to lead the charge.

The Knicks (11-29) hope for a more competitive showing this time around. For that to happen, Miller believes his team needs to get off to a better start.

“I think first-quarter defense is going to be big again, that we kind of try to keep them in check,” he said after practice Monday. “They come at you so many different ways, there’s a reason they’re on pace to be a 70-win team. They’re playing for a championship, there’s no question. We need to be sharp and we need to be tight with our coverages and then we need to put both ends together. They’re a difficult team to score on.”

RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox shot a combined 1-for-18 against the Bucks on Dec. 2, with Barrett failing to record a bucket.

Both shined against the Heat, though, in the Knicks’ 124-121 victory on Sunday at the Garden.

Barrett (14.1 points per game) had 23 points in 40 minutes, including 8-for-10 from the free-throw line. The 19-year-old rookie is shooting 59.8% from the line this season but has increased that to 75.6%  in his last 10 games.

“He doesn’t back down from competition,” Reggie Bullock said of Barrett. “He’s a strong kid for his age. When he gets downhill, he’s tough to stop. He’s going to have a bright future in this league.”

Knox, who had been struggling, scored 17 points in 20 minutes against the Heat.

“Every single game [Miller has] told me to be aggressive,” Knox said Sunday. “Today, the shots were falling. Got to the line a few times to get a rhythm. That kind of helped a lot to get some easy [points]. The next thing I know, the jumper is falling. It’s something I have to consistently be able to do, get easy baskets to get me going.”

The Knicks again will be without Marcus Morris (sore neck), who will miss his fifth straight game. He remains day-to-day, Miller said.

Frank Ntilikina (sore groin) is probable to return after missing the Heat game. Mitchell Robinson (sprained left big toe) also is probable.

Dennis Smith Jr. (strained left oblique) remains out, and there still is no timetable for his return.

Notes & quotes: The Knicks waived Ivan Rabb and reportedly signed forward Kenny Wooten to a two-way contract.

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