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Knicks again no match for Bucks, lose to open six-game road trip

MILWAUKEE — What was there to lose?

The Knicks, who had won once since Dec. 1, opened a brutal six-game road trip Thursday night against the Bucks, who had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and had just beaten the Knicks by 14 points on Christmas Day.

Knicks coach David Fizdale felt he needed to do something to shake the team up, so he announced before the game that second-year big man Luke Kornet would start in place of veteran Enes Kanter.

Kornet scored a season-high 23 points, shooting 7-for-11 from three-point range, and had five assists. The Knicks lost anyway, 112-96.

They have dropped six straight games and have the second-worst record in the NBA at 9-27, a half-game better than the Cavaliers.

The Knicks’ defense was no match for the Bucks’ powerful frontcourt. Giannis Antetokounmpo, a top contender for MVP, had 31 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. Khris Middleton scored 25 points and Brook Lopez had 17.

Noah Vonleh had 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots for the Knicks. Emmanuel Mudiay had 13 points, shooting 6-for-15, and Kevin Knox added 12, shooting 4-for-15.

The Knicks were playing without top scorer Tim Hardaway Jr., who is on the trip but is suffering from an illness. Courtney Lee, who started in his place, had nine points.

Fizdale said he made the change to Kornet after going back to the Knicks’ last win, a 126-124 overtime victory in Charlotte on Dec. 14, to see what they were doing well. Kornet, who played 10 games in the G League earlier this season, had 13 points in that game.

Fizdale likes Kornet’s ability to space the floor and protect the rim. Though it’s not known if this will be more than a one-game change, he did say before the game that the addition was not specifically about matching up with Lopez.

“I wanted to see what that starting lineup would look like and shake it up,” Fizdale said afterward. “Obviously, we haven’t been playing well. I’m just trying to get these guys a win. I’m not giving up on that. I figured, let’s shake it up a bit and see how that looks.”

Fizdale risked ticking off Kanter, one of the team’s most consistent players, with the move. Kanter, who was upset earlier in the year when Mitchell Robinson replaced him for five games, declined to talk to reporters before the game.

Though Kanter did not start, he did figure prominently in the game, getting ejected with 9:56 left in the fourth quarter. Officials made no call on Kanter’s hard foul on Antetokounmpo and Kanter then glared as he walked past Antetokounmpo, who was lying on the floor. Antetokounmpo popped up, ran toward Kanter in the middle of the court and appeared to chest-bump him as the two went nose-to-nose before teammates could separate them.

The Knicks have lost 11 of their last 12 as they head west for games against the Jazz, Nuggets, Lakers, Trail Blazers and Warriors. Utah (17-19) is the only one of those teams playing below .500. The other four have a combined 84-54 record.

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