MILWAUKEE — As coach Tom Thibodeau still wings it with his platoon of Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose, the pair of point guards got some bad news Thursday.
Jrue Holiday will be playing Friday night. The Bucks’ star point guard, who now has a championship ring, plans to return from a five-game absence from a sprained ankle to face the Knicks at Fiserv Forum.
Holiday is arguably the best defensive point guard on the planet, so that’s not exactly good news for Walker and Rose, who lately have been trying to regain their mojo.
At Bucks practice on Thursday, Holiday gave the duo kudos but the Knicks’ two-game losing streak is partly due to the less-than-stellar performances from Walker and Rose.
“I thought they were good last year, but adding Kemba makes them more explosive, especially offensively,’’ Holiday said. “He gives them more firepower. Those two guys, Julius Randle, and the young crew, they’re a really good team.’’
Not in their past two games, when the Knicks were beaten handily by the Raptors and Pacers. Walker was atrocious at Indiana on both ends of the court (four points in 28 minutes, 2-for-11, 0-for-5 from 3-point range, a minus-11).
But an equally disturbing issue is that Rose isn’t the same guy as he was last season when he was the Knicks’ second-most important player. Rose played just 19:47 in Indianapolis on Wednesday. Thibodeau stuck more with Walker, despite his woes. More often than not, Thibodeau is finishing with the player who is having the better evening. This time, Rose got yanked with 6:02 left for the struggling Walker.
That’s a different structure than last season when Rose almost exclusively finished. He knew he had his set minutes as a backup, especially as Elfrid Payton waned in the late stages of the season. Against the Pelicans and Raptors, Rose struggled massively, scoring five and four points respectively, shooting 4-for-14 combined in those contests. He scored 13 points at Indiana, but committed a key fourth-quarter turnover. Rose hasn’t had a real bust-out performance yet.
Asked if he’s struggling in a lesser role with Walker on board, Rose said: “That’s why I’m here. Whenever he needs me. I know later on down the line I’m probably going to play more, but it’s whatever the game needs. It’s up to me to be a professional, come in and give the energy. The last two games I felt like I wasn’t there.”
The Knicks haven’t had a back-to-back yet. They will negotiate their first one with games Sunday against Collin Sexton’s Cavaliers and Monday at Philadelphia. Walker said he’s playing it by ear, but Rose knows he’ll be the starter when Walker sits for load-management days to rest his troubled left knee. “I’ve just got to stay ready,’’ Rose said. “If you stay ready you don’t have to get ready. That’s my mindset. It’s whatever Kemba feels. If he feels like he can play — whatever situation may play out, I’ve just got to stay ready throughout the entire year.’’ Thibodeau still hasn’t turned to rookie point guard Miles McBride, the West Virginia second-round pick who probably is the best defender of the trio.
The Bucks (4-4) are scheduled to visit the White House on Monday — the first NBA team to visit since 2016. Bucks star wing Khris Middleton has missed the past two games after testing positive for COVID-19.
Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer on teams getting up to face the champs: “I’d be naive to think we’re not getting the best shot from everybody. We should embrace it. That’s how you get better by being pushed and exposed.’’
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