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RJ Barrett, Knicks have two scores to settle with East-leading Bucks

Knicks guard RJ Barrett dribbles the ball against

Knicks guard RJ Barrett dribbles the ball against the Miami Heat during the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

MILWAUKEE — When RJ Barrett was in Milwaukee last month he endured the worst game of his young career — and the worst loss, too. And sitting in front of his locker afterward he didn’t allow himself to linger on his 0-for-9 shooting performance or the 44-point blowout loss to the Bucks, instead talking about moving on to the next game.

But as he readied to take the court again Tuesday night he admitted that game was on his mind again.

“Yeah, that’s definitely in your mind,” Barrett said at the Knicks’ morning shootaround. “You know you have to move on from game to game, but when you play bad that sticks with you.”

It has stuck with the Knicks, with David Fizdale losing his job as coach one game later when the 44-point loss was followed by a 37-point loss to Denver. The Bucks are still the best team in basketball, bringing a 35-6 record into the game, and the Knicks are still near the bottom with an 11-29 record as this game would bring them to the midpoint of the season.

“These guys are pros,” Knicks interim coach Mike Miller said. “They go to the next game. They come in this league they understand you play this game, learn from it and play the next one. That was a long time ago. We’re trying to build and grow.

“We’re trying to focus on where are we today, where can we be tomorrow. We’re not looking backwards. If our best days are behind us, what do we have to look forward to? We’re pushing forward.”

While the Knicks have played better since that loss, which dropped them to 4-17, they lost to the Bucks at Madison Square Garden 19 days later by 21 points. They snapped a five-game losing streak Sunday when they beat the Miami Heat, avenging one of the many one-sided defeats they have been subjected to this season.

Though they remain far behind the Bucks, Barrett, the 19-year-old Knicks lottery pick, has had better days since that night. He shot 7-for-10 and scored 23 points against Miami — the Heat held him to a 1-for-10 performance little more than three weeks earlier — and is averaging 14.1 points this season.

“I would just say they really came at us,” Barrett said of that first meeting with the Bucks. “They’re the best team in offense and defense in the league. We have to be more prepared for that. Playing them twice already, we kind of know what to expect.

“I really think they took it at us. The MVP [Giannis Antetokounmpo] coming at you full speed, that’s kind of tough sometimes. Now we kind of know what to expect, so put up a better fight.”

He has had the expected swings for a rookie, but the lows are not quite as low as they were earlier in the season.

“I’ve learned that every game is different,” Barrett said. “You could play one team and have a terrible game and the next time you play them have the best game of your career. Every game is different and it’s a new opportunity every day.

“I’ve kind of been looking at how teams have been playing me, trying to figure out my spots on the floor to do my thing and make plays. And also, a huge thing has been defensively. Playing defense in the NBA is way different than anything else.”

Notes & quotes: The Knicks signed Kenny Wooten to a two-way contract Tuesday. Wooten, who was undrafted but joined the Knicks for Summer League play, was averaging 7.7 points for the Westchester Knicks, and was second in the G League with 3.43 blocked shots per game.

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