After dropping the second night of a back-to-back to the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday, the Knicks are set for a rematch of last season’s first-round playoff showdown against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Going a combined 7-2 against the Cavs last year including the playoffs, the Knickerbockers will look to see if they can emulate the success of season’s past against a new-look Cleveland squad.
The Cavaliers made moves this offseason to address the holes exploited by New York in the postseason. Max Strus was brought in via trade and fills a big hole in the Cavs roster when it comes to scoring and facilitating. The sharpshooter was a role player on the Miami Heat last year, averaging 11.5 points per game on 56/35/88 shooting splits. Strus has started all three games so far for the Cavs and has taken a big step from last year, averaging 18.7 points per game this season.
To add to their depth off the bench, Cleveland also added two seasoned vets with Georges Niang and Damian Jones. Both look to provide some frontcourt depth to back-up Evan Mobley and Dean Wade.
However, the Knicks will not have to face the Cavs at full strength as starting center Jarrett Allen is still out due to an ankle injury. With a key piece of their rotation down, the Knicks should be able to take full advantage of Cleveland.
After dropping two out of their first three games of the season, people may be inclined to write this Knicks team off early. That would be a grave mistake considering their schedule and who they have played so far this season. Facing two top teams in the league in the Celtics and Pelicans with New Orleans coming on the second night of a back-to-back, there is still plenty of time before any panic button needs to be pushed.
New York will get two cracks at Cleveland, with their first matchup coming in Cleveland on Tuesday night and then back at The Garden on Wednesday night. The Knicks will certainly be looking to exploit the absence of Allen down low, much like when they took advantage of the Cavs’ lack of size in the postseason.
Cleveland is seemingly the ideal opponent for the Knicks as they are able to exploit their lack of size and physicality with the brand of bully ball Tom Thibodeau is known for. Julius Randle has mainly been a facilitator in New York’s first three games as Randle has led the team in assists in two out of three contests so far. Randle is primed to have a breakout game as he can attack the switches and mismatches Cleveland presents.
In the backcourt, Jalen Brunson will look to shoulder the load for the Knicks after his dominant display last year. The guard scored 20+ in all five games during their series and has shown no signs of showing down to start the year, averaging 20 points per game.
For a New York team that has somewhat stumbled out of the gate, two straight matchups against a familiar foe should get them back on track.