Defense still a work in progress

Here's the best thing you can say about the Knicks' defense right now: It's a work in progress.

But Mike Woodson's club made definite strides on defense in the second half of its victory over Milwaukee on Friday night.

The Knicks held the Bucks to 33 points on 32 percent shooting, and forced the Bucks' backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings to miss 15 of 23 shots.

But consistency remains an issue.

The Knicks still bear no resemblance to the team that was in the top five in most defensive metrics over the first month of the season.

And Tyson Chandler knows they need to reclaim that identity in order to make any kind of run in the postseason.

"We've definitely got to get back to that. I think that's something that we understand," Chandler said after his 20-rebound effort against the Bucks. "We can't just play great defense against the Miamis, the San Antonio Spurs of the world. We've got to pick it up every single night. After the All-Star break, that's something we've got to focus on."

Chandler wasn't alone in his assessment.

Several Knicks spoke with a sense of urgency about reclaiming their defensive identity.

"We've got to have that type of effort for 48 minutes. We've got to get after guys from the start to finish," Amar'e Stoudemire said.

That didn't happen Friday. The Knicks struggled in the early going against the Bucks, a recurring theme over the past three weeks.

Milwaukee scored 53 first-half points on 48 percent shooting.

The Knicks struggled to guard the pick-and-roll early on, as Ersan Ilyasova scored several buckets after New York was slow to make switches.

Milwaukee also knocked down six of its 13 3-point attempts.

"We’ve still got to work on that, figure that out," Carmelo Anthony said.

The Bucks are just the latest team to start off hot against New York.

Orlando's Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick combined for 31 points on 62 percent shooting in the first half of the Knicks’ win over the Magic on Wednesday.

After that game, Woodson publicly criticized his team's effort, particularly in defending pick-and-rolls.

"We were really good early in the season. Nobody was begging for help, and it was beautiful to watch," Woodson said. "Somehow I’ve got to get us back to that.”

On Friday, the Knicks adjusted in the second half by trapping on pick-and-rolls. It befuddled Milwaukee and helped New York break the game open. The Bucks finished by scoring just 13 points in the fourth.

Said Anthony: "We buckled down."

That's something the Knicks will need to do more consistently if they hope to be playing in late June.

"It’s going to be very important. When you get into a seven-game series with any team, if you’re not defending, you got to rely on trying to outscore teams. That don’t happen a lot of times in a seven-game series," Woodson said. "After the first game or two, there’s no tricking anybody."

No, there are no tricks in the playoffs. No gimmicks. You win by playing solid defense, or you go home.