The Milwaukee Bucks have nine games left to make a playoff push and perhaps none is more critical than Wednesday night's showdown with the New York Knicks.
A 20-point loss to Oklahoma City on Monday was a setback for the Bucks, who are trying to chase down the Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference standings. Beating the Knicks would be a huge boost to their playoff hopes.
Bucks coach Scott Skiles acknowledges the importance of Wednesday night's game - and hopes his team will, too.
''Win or lose, are we playing like we understand the magnitude of the moment, and the type of energy we need to come out and compete?'' Skiles said Tuesday.
The Bucks are 2-1 against the Knicks this season, and a win Wednesday would give them a head-to-head tiebreaker. The Bucks also have a game left against the slumping 76ers on April 25.
Despite the rough loss to the Thunder, Brandon Jennings believes the Bucks can refocus.
''I'm still feeling confident,'' he said. ''Oklahoma City's supposed to be the best team in the NBA, we had them down to (a 10-point deficit) in the third quarter and it just opened up. I put it on myself that I need to start playing as aggressive as I did in the third quarter in the first half.''
The Bucks are averaging 98.9 points per game, sixth-best in the NBA going into Tuesday night's games, and the addition of Monta Ellis in a trade last month has made them more explosive.
But defense has been an issue all season, and Skiles wants to see if the Bucks can win a game when things aren't clicking on offense.
''Our issue is not, can we play well for several minutes in the game? Of course we can,'' Skiles said. ''Our issue is, are we ready when the ball goes up, can we play consistently, are we always getting after it, whether the shots go in or not?''
And going into the final stretch of the regular season, he still isn't sure.
''To be honest, I don't know if we can do that,'' Skiles said. ''We haven't shown yet, if everything isn't really clicking for us, that we can really dig down and go out and just sort of be physical and steal a game from somebody.''
Skiles says one of the biggest challenges the Bucks will face from the Knicks is their defensive pressure that will challenge Jennings and Ellis - just like the Thunder did successfully.
''They're going to get up, they're going to get into ball handlers, they're going to pressure the ball, and they're going to see if we can beat people off the dribble and we can make the proper plays and things like that,'' Skiles said. ''And hopefully we'll handle it better than we did (Monday). Their defensive pressure really bothered us.''
Skiles spoke highly of the Knicks' ability to defend, and said it goes beyond the recent coaching change from Mike D'Antoni to Mike Woodson. Skiles said Iman Shumpert and Tyson Chandler stand out in particular.
''It's not like they were a bad defensive team before,'' Skiles said. ''They've got guys that are willing to do that. Shumpert, he's one of the best perimeter defenders in the league already, and then Tyson has had an incredible effect on their team with his approach and intensity and he's into every possession and things like that. But they do a good job of pressuring the ball.''
Ellis knows one way the Bucks can avoid such troubles.
''Really get out and run, don't let their defense set,'' Ellis said.
And while the Bucks showed some frustration in Monday's loss - they were called for five technical fouls and backup forward Larry Sanders was ejected - Ellis believes they can rally to make the playoffs.
''There's nothing we can do about that,'' Ellis said. ''We're still moving ahead. We've still got a lot on our plate. We can still make a move and make these playoffs.''