Coming off a stirring win over the defense-free Mavericks, New York (2-7) heads home to face Cleveland (3-5). The Cavs just bumped off the Wizards and have been pretty solid with Kevin Love taking a benevolent leadership role. These same Cavs also just got bent up by the Mavs, coincidentally enough.
Both teams sport a 109 defensive rating on the season which means a semi-productive offense won’t struggle to find their spots. New head coach John Beilein will certainly find ways to pick on mismatches and deficiencies. Luckily the Cavs play a somewhat lopsidedly big team, with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love leading the way in minutes and Larry Nance as sixth man. Their backcourt and wings are either young, turnover-prone or both, and they’re all relatively small.
The Knicks, of course, stink pretty bad, but they may slowly be forming a top-down identity behind Marcus Morris, who wants everyone to know that this is Frank Ntilikina’s team.
The Knicks went to Dallas to reunite with Kristaps Porzingis, their erstwhile star, to mark his next chapter. Instead, Frank Ntilikina played the best game of his career and NY left on a high, with their former lottery pick maturing into his potential. https://t.co/fGqoA7oqVS pic.twitter.com/MmiUq9Ctad— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) November 9, 2019
With Ntilikina on the court, the Knicks have scored 103.8 points per 100 possessions. When he’s on the bench, they’ve scored 93.3 points per 100 possessions. This is due in no small part to the fact that the ball moves far more crisply when Frank is on the floor. Frank is averaging 58 passes a game. Every other Knick is averaging 43 or fewer passes. Despite playing the point, Ntilikina has posted a usage rate of just 12.3%.
And if somehow you missed it, it sure seems like FIBA Frank is starting to flex.
With Mitchell Robinson still in the concussion protocol, expect to see another start from Taj Gibson who should be able to slam his body into the barrel-chested Tristan Thompson enough to throw him off his game a little bit. Thompson might still have the quickness, but the other option is Julius Randle, who would probably just let him get position.
This could be the day that Elfrid Payton or Dennis Smith Jr. reemerge. Payton was ruled out for the road trip, but they’re home now. Smith meanwhile has rejoined the team after his family tragedy, but it’s unclear if David Fizdale thinks he’s ready to hit the floor just yet.
No Dylan Windler for the Cavs, and thank goodness, because you just know that guy is a Knick nemesis. If he were playing, that’s a bonafide 18 points on five shots candidate with a critical offensive rebound and a rally-wrecking steal. Ante Zizic and John Henson are also out, but who cares?
Key Matchups & Prediction
Of course whoever Frank is checking, the spotlight is on them. Whether it’s rookie Darius Garland or second-year wackadoo Collin Sexton. How do they handle the length and strength, what advantage do they gain from forcing a switch — and are they savvy enough to capitalize? I truly can’t wait for the Jordan Clarkson minutes; he doesn’t want to announce a new pope, I can tell you that much.
The Knicks are probably riding high after getting a nice road kill to break their losing streak, but hopefully they don’t have too big of egos after one game. It certainly doesn’t seem like they do.
I worry that Fizdale will feel the need to get RJ Barrett going and push Ntilikina further off the ball. There’s also the worry that the other two point guards, Payton and Smith, may need to be gotten going. Sigh.
Knicks by 1.
Warm Up Music
Watch out punks, Frank is right next to you.