NEW YORK (AP) — Maybe the Milwaukee Bucks shouldn’t limit their focus to trying to catch the No. 8 seed.
The way the New York Knicks are playing, seventh place might even be available.
Brandon Jennings scored a season-high 37 points, 16 during Milwaukee’s second straight dominant start against New York, and the Bucks sent the Knicks to their fifth consecutive loss with a 102-96 victory Friday night.
Andrew Bogut added 21 points, 17 rebounds and four blocked shots for the Bucks, who won for the third time in four games and pulled within two games of Indiana for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Less than a week after building a 32-9 lead over New York after one, Milwaukee led by as much as 16 in the first period of this one, beating the Knicks for the ninth time in the last 11 meetings and winning the series for the third straight season.
“They’ve been struggling the last couple of games, we knew they were going to try to make a statement tonight,” Jennings said. “So we have to throw the first punches and that’s something that we did at home against them and now we did it here.”
Amare Stoudemire scored 28 for the Knicks, losers of eight of nine and 7-11 since acquiring Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 25.
New York (35-37) is seventh in the East, 5 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place Milwaukee and Charlotte, and should still make the postseason. The Knicks sure aren’t looking like a playoff team, though. They were held below 100 points for the fifth straight game and were booed multiple times.
“We’ve got to fight more,” Stoudemire said. “We’ve definitely got to put a lot more effort out there on the court, play with a lot more energy. We’ve got to definitely want these games, I mean we haven’t done nothing yet. We’re not in the playoffs right now. I mean we have the seventh seed, but the way we’re going, we’re declining.”
Milwaukee held New York to a season-low nine points on 4 of 25 shooting in first quarter of its 100-95 victory Sunday and jumped on the Knicks early again Friday.
Jennings and Carlos Delfino opened the game with 3-pointers, and Bogut blocked shots by Stoudemire and Anthony on New York’s first two possessions. The boos were already out when Jennings’ second straight basket made it 16-4 less than 5 minutes in, and the Bucks took a 35-24 advantage into the second.
“I think our defense just came in focused,” Bogut said. “We knew what we had to do, we knew where Melo and Amare are trying to get the ball and score on us.”
The Knicks spent the rest of the game trying to catch up and got within three points on Stoudemire’s two free throws with 7:15 to play. Jennings — who said he will never forget the Knicks not drafting him last season — then made a floater, nailed a 3-pointer, and sank a pair of free throws to extend Milwaukee’s lead to 98-88, essentially putting it away.
As the Knicks struggle to deal with the expectations created by the Anthony trade and a schedule of 18 games this month, coach Mike D’Antoni said before the game that “emotionally the team’s a little spent.” He said he needed to find a way to lessen Stoudemire’s minutes, two nights after his All-Star forward said he was a little tired after a loss to Orlando.
The Knicks then came out flat, letting Milwaukee shoot 51 percent from the field and 9 of 18 from 3-point range. But Anthony said he remains positive his team will come out of this.
“We’re going to try to figure it out as a team and you know when it happens them times will be fun. Basketball will be fun again. We won’t have to worry about losing eight out of nine, or seven out of eight, or something like that,” he said. “You know everybody is going to be smiling again and be happy. Right now, you know is hard to smile right now when you’re losing games, I can tell you that.”
In his search for fresh legs, D’Antoni went deep down his bench, using Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams, who have been used sparingly since coming from Denver in the Anthony trade. He also started Toney Douglas in the second half so the Knicks had someone to deal with Jennings’ speed.
Jennings was contained for the third quarter, then scored 13 in the final period.
Notes: Bucks guard Michael Redd did not make the trip to New York. He could be in uniform Saturday at home against Chicago for the first time since tearing ligaments in his left knee on Jan. 10, 2010. … Though Earl Barron’s name is frequently mentioned in the media, D’Antoni wasn’t interested when asked about the center. While Barron played well at the end of last season for New York and the Knicks need another center, D’Antoni said his name has never come up in discussions, so the speculation was “kind of a moot point.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)