Aye, a challenging week lies ahead for our heroes. The Knicks’ (1-2) defense and offensive firepower will be tested by multiple All-Star scoring threats. It must be so. To be the best, the Knicks will have to beat the best. So far this season, they nearly salvaged a win against the Boston Celtics on opening night, then scooched by the Hawks, and got pooped on by the Pelicans. This week will be no cakewalk, either, when they play three games against two of their toughest conference foes, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks. Let’s take a look.
Knicks at Cleveland Cavaliers, Tuesday, October 31, 7:30 PM EST, MSG and TNT
Back to back games are notoriously tough. The Knicks played such a pair this weekend: the first was a win in Atlanta and the next a loss in New Orleans. This week, they get a double-dose against the same team, the Cavaliers. The first contest will be held in Cleveland on Tuesday; the second in New York on Wednesday.
This time, the Knicks might get assistance from the injury bug. Donovan Mitchell, the starriest Cav, missed Saturday’s game against the Pacers due to hamstring soreness. The injury added him to a list of inactive players that includes Darius Garland (hamstring), Ty Jerome (ankle), Jarrett Allen (ankle), and Ricky Rubio (not with the team).
Scott Perry made interesting remarks this week about Mitchell. To paraphrase, the Knicks’ brass was unconvinced that Mitchell could carry the team to the promised land. Instead of being traded to the basketball Mecca, he went to . . . where do the Cavs play again? The undeterred Spida, once a big apple of many a New York fan’s eye, had a great inaugural season in Ohio last year and has averaged 35 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists in his first two games this season. He’s likely to have a chip on his shoulder after Perry’s comments, and I suspect that he will suit up for Tuesday and Wednesday’s contests.
The Knicks had the Cavs’ number last year, winning three of four regular season games and then beating them in the first round of Playoffs. Stinging from the loss, Cleveland hired Georges Niang and Max Strus to add more shooting. Furthermore, JB Bickerstaff intends for his team to play more physically and faster on offensive.
Thus far, Strus is on the loose in The Land. The former Miami Heater has averaged 18.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and four assists in three games for his new team, including 39% from downtown. How wonderful for them. Facing the absence of three starters, the Cavs are likely to shift Caris LeVert to the lead point guard position, alongside Strus, Isaac Okoro, Dean Wade, and Evan Mobley.
It would be unlikely to sweep a healthy Cavs team, which is one of the Eastern Conference’s elite squads. The Knicks certainly stand better odds against a patched-up unit. Still, a split is more likely, given that the Knicks have been traveling, and I believe that Spida will take the floor. Prediction: New York will win the first of the back-to-back by five points.
Knicks vs Cleveland Cavaliers, Wednesday, October 31, 7:30 PM EST, MSG
See above. The Knicks will lose the second of the back-to-back by five points. They always play better on the road than they do at home.
Knicks at Milwaukee Bucks, Friday, November 3, 7:30 PM EST, MSG and ESPN
No rest for the Knickerbockers. This Friday, they play their first NBA Cup game, this one against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Damian Lillard has begun his time in Wisconsin with a bang. In his first game there, he scored 39 points and although he only shot 4-of-12 from deep, he made all 17 of his free throws. Giannis Antetokounmpo looked a tad awkward trying to fit in beside his new All-Star teammate. Of course, a clunky game for the Greek Freak still means 23 points, 12 boards, and three assists. They don’t give MVP trophies to slackers.
The Bucks are full bore with talent. Khris Middleton will miss tonight’s game against the Hawks due to knee injury management. Let’s presume that he will be cleared to play for the tilt against the Knicks, which will be the first In-Season Tournament game.
The Bucks are neck-and-neck with the Celtics as favorites to reach the Finals. Obviously. As for how the Knicks will fare against them . . . probably a loss, but one that’s hard-fought. The Knicks have yet to show any great defensive tenacity, and that would be the key to victory. So, the score will be close throughout, but Milwaukee will put the game out of reach midway through the fourth. Prove me wrong, Knicks!
Peeking ahead into the following week . . . I see the LA Clippers. Damn. The league really put the screws to New York with a grueling early season schedule. That will only make the Finals’ victory all the sweeter.
One final thing: We’ll drop an awesome surprise here at P&T first thing tomorrow. I’m stoked about it and a good bunch of you will be, too—the cool kids among you who care about Knicks history and stuff. (You are my favorites.) It is scheduled to publish at 7 a.m. Set an alarm.