You know the ol’ saying: Another day, another road game against a playoff team. The Cleveland Cavaliers have yet to play a team that didn’t make the playoffs (or play-in) last season, and that streak continues tonight as they face the New York Knicks.
Both teams came from behind to win on the road on Friday night. The Cavs came back from 15 down in the third to squeak by the Toronto Raptors, while the Knicks rained hellfire on the Milwaukee Bucks to turn a 21-point first-quarter deficit into a 15-point victory. If either team is conspicuously terrible early on, maybe that’s on purpose?
HOW TO WATCH
Where: Madison Square Garden — New York, New York
When: 6 p.m. EST
TV: Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports App, NBA League Pass
Opposing blog: Posting and Toasting
Expected Cavs starting lineup: Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Dean Wade, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen
Cavs injury report: Kevin Love (health and safety protocols), Lauri Markkanen (health and safety protocols), Isaac Okoro (hamstring), R.J. Nembhard (G-League)
Expected Knicks starting lineup: Derrick Rose, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson
Knicks injury report: Luka Samanic (G-League), Kemba Walker (OUT)
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Julius Randle, neighborhood bully. Evan Mobley has been fantastic through his first 10 games as a pro. That’s especially true on defense, where every shot attempt seems within his arms’ reach.
Mobley hasn’t matched up with anyone like Julius Randle. The Knicks’ 6-foot-8, 250-pound power forward/troll is the Knicks’ top scorer, rebounder, and assister. He’s third in the league in second-chance points per game, fourth in isolation points per game, and sixth in post-up points per game. Mobley’s biggest strength is his ungodly blend of length, quickness, and connectivity; Randle’s biggest strength is his ability to shove wimps like that into lockers.
Mobley has held up well physically thus far, but he’s prone to getting pushed around (Miles Bridges of the Charlotte Hornets gave him particular trouble, and he’s 25 pounds lighter than Randle). What’s more, as Jackson Flickinger pointed out, Mobley’s minute totals are alarming for someone of his stature. If Randle brutalizes him early, the best short- and long-term solution might be to give Mobley a break and let someone else serve as cannon fodder.
Morey Ball, but in New York. Randle’s stat-sheet dominance isn’t just empty calories. The Knicks currently own the third-most efficient offense in the league, largely because they’re third and fifth in threes and free throws made per 100 possessions, respectively. The Cavs’ defense has fared well in both of those areas: they’re tops in the Association in free throws made and attempted, number one in free throw rate, and eighth in opponent three-point attempts per 100. On the other hand, only the Miami Heat give up more threes than the Knicks. (They’re a mediocre 17th in opponent free throws.) Whether the Cavs can capitalize is another question—they’re 26th in three-point percentage—but the shots should be there.
The Cavs’ stars taking over. It feels as though something has changed over the last two games. People who don’t normally pay attention to Cleveland basketball are starting to notice what’s been in the works for a few seasons now.
It’s not just people noticing, though—the Cavs won the last two games because they had the best player on the floor in each, and that’s a new development. On Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers, it was Jarrett Allen dominating the interior to the tune of 24 and 17. It was Allen and Mobley each taking a turn switching onto Damian Lillard and forcing a miss in the waning seconds of the game. On Friday against the Raptors, it was Darius Garland taking control in the third quarter to keep the Cavs alive, then scoring 12 in the fourth to steal a win. If things get tight late, the Cavaliers could have the best player on the floor. That’s a huge change from seasons past.