On Sunday, the New York Knicks return home to host the Cleveland Cavaliers and the human albatross, Evan Mobley. The 6-4 Cavs are coming off a 102-101 squeaker against the Raptors on Friday.
The Knicks must feel better after beating the Milwaukee “Thank God for KD’s big shoes and Kyrie’s hammy” Bucks. That 113-98 victory ended a two-game skid, and for New York to keep Milwaukee under 100 points was a relief. Let’s see if the Knicks can get another win streak going tonight.
WHEN LAST THEY MET
In their last regular season contest on January 29, 2021, the Knicks beat the Cavs 102-81. Darius Garland led the Cavs with 24 points, and center Andre Drummond grabbed 15 rebounds. For the Knicks, Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett scored 25 and 24 respectively. The Knicks won the season series 2-1.
WHAT’S BEEN HAPPENING IN CLEVELAND?
The Cavs finished the 2020 season 22-50, good enough for thirteenth in the East.
In the draft, they took 7-foot Evan Mobley (USC) third. They inked up Jarrett Allen and sent Taurean Prince to Minnesota for journeyman PG Ricky Rubio. They swapped Larry Nance, Jr. for Lauri Markkanen and bid adieu to Damyean Dotson, Anderson Varejão, and other hoopers you might not recognize by name.
Thus far this season, things are clicking for the Cavs. They’ve beaten the Hawks, Nuggets, Clippers, Hornets, Blazers, and Raptors for a 6-4 record. None of those teams stink. Cleveland lacks depth, however, and can go only as far as their starters (plus Rubio) will take them. Injuries could sink their season quickly, especially in a stacked Eastern Conference.
PG Darius Garland is posting solid numbers in Cleveland, netting 14.6 points and 7.9 assists in 32 minutes per game. A combo guard that plays well both on- and off-ball, he’s shooting 56% eFG and averaging six threes a game on a 38% average. Against the Raptors on Friday, he scored 21 points on 8-12 from the field and 2-3 from three with eight assists. You probably heard that Steph Curry thinks he’s “Gonna be a flat-out star.” (cavaliersnation.com)
Garland’s a close match to Kemba Walker both physically and defensively, with both players rating 109 on defense this season. Walker was cold against the Bucks, with five points on 2-8 FG, 1-5 3PT. He only played 15 minutes in the win, and expect him to get an early hook if he’s flat against Garland.
SG Collin Sexton is averaging just under 18 points per game in about 30 minutes. If he gets cooking, he’s capable of a 40 point game. He can also lay an egg. On Friday, he scored nine points on 4-17 from the field, 1-5 from deep. Evan Fournier is a tougher defender than Sexton, although Thibs might switch RJ Barrett onto the Alabama alum for a tighter clampdown. Look for Fournier to launch a few threes over him, and he could use a recovery game. On Friday, he scored a paltry seven points on 2-7 FG, 1-6 3PT…in 25 minutes.
Evan Mobley’s 7’4” wingspan is proving tough to defend. The early frontrunner for Rookie of the Year is playing significant minutes, 33.8 per game, and can hang with the big boys, scoring 13.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.3 blocks. He’s a tall power forward, but only 215 lbs compared to Julius Randle’s 250 lbs. Randle should lay some bully ball on the rook.
C Jarrett Allen is averaging 15.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in 31.6 minutes per game. Paired with Mobley, that’s a helluva big frontcourt. Mitchell Robinson has a 35 lb advantage on Allen, but the Cavalier has great bounce and hands. This will be a fun match-up to watch, and it helps to have Nerlens Noel back to take a turn.
With both Lauri Markkanen and Isaac Okoro out, SF Dean Wade might start. He is fifth on the depth chart but got the nod over SF Cedi Osman Friday’s game (both played 26 minutes). For the Knicks, RJ Barrett is enjoying his career-best season, with five straight games of 20 or more points. Paired against either the Kansan or the Macedonian, Broadway Barrett should reach six.
No Kevin Love for you, folks. The Knicks are fully healthy, according to the injury report.
Ricky Rubio will sub in at the one, but Cleveland’s bench is shallow. New York should have the edge there.
Between the Sexland offense and the starting frontcourt’s defense, Cleveland is no pushover. New York should exploit Wade and Osman, fire against the Cavalier guards on the perimeter, and switch RJ onto Garland or Sexton for tighter defense. Julius and Mitch are stronger than Mobley and Allen, and they should play with physicality down low—especially since the refs are swallowing their whistles this season.
Expect 35-40 threes in a game that the Knicks win by five-ish.
The world’s most famous arena. Sunday, 6 PM. Vamonos Nueva York!