The Knicks and Cavs play a fifth game stretching back to preseason. This time it’s against a post-Nets trade Cleveland team after New York’s flat west-coast trip.
“Not another Cleveland matchup.”
For the third time this season (fifth including preseason), the New York Knicks (8-11) are facing the Cleveland Cavaliers (9-9), this time at Madison Square Garden, as the Knicks look to avenge an embarrassing loss earlier this month against a short-handed Cavs roster.
Unlike their last matchup, the Cavs will have their starting backcourt in Darius Garland and Collin Sexton—SexLand, if you will—and it won’t be a team made up of 40 minutes from Andre Drummond and a total of eight active players.
The Knicks are coming off a three-game losing streak, with their last loss at the hands of a Utah Jazz team that is playing extremely well. The Cavs have won four of their past six, and with a back-to-back with the Minnesota Timberwolves after this game, they’re probably licking their lips at the thought of leaving this stretch seven in nine.
In the aforementioned Utah game, Austin Rivers had 25 first-half points while shooting 10-for-10 from the floor. Foul trouble saw him sit out a long enough time to cool down and miss four shots in the fourth, but Knicks fans would be lying if they said they weren’t watching his first shot eagerly.
25 POINTS IN 11 MINUTES. 10/10 FROM THE FIELD. AUSTIN RIVERS GAME PART 2 pic.twitter.com/mu0kOILMV7
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 27, 2021
The biggest question heading into the game (and what should be the biggest question until it’s no longer a question) is will Elfrid Payton continue to start ahead of Immanuel Quickley?
Quickley has clearly outplayed the non-shooter in Payton, and even though IQ’s six points didn’t look great against Utah, neither did Elf’s four.
If I were a betting man, I’d say yes, Tom Thibodeau is still allergic to playing rookies, and he had enough of a sample size to make the change weeks ago. We’ll see.
Secondly, how will Julius Randle fare against the dominant big-man tandem of Andre Drummond and Jarrett Allen? There’s no sloppy backup for Randle to pick apart. If he wants to score his points at the rim, it’ll have to be over a good defender.
From a non-Knicks point of view, can Sexton keep up his elite level of play? The third-year guard has played well above his standard thus far, averaging above 25 points per contest and doing it in an efficient (and fun) way.
42 points, career high.
20 straight points in overtime.
W in double overtime against the Nets.
Powered by Collin Sexton. pic.twitter.com/VK1WCScmEm
— NBA UK (@NBAUK) January 21, 2021
Garland is coming back after missing an extended period with an injury and is still getting his legs back. In a win against the Detroit Pistons, he had 14 points and four assists but entered the season as a walking 20-10 guy. Let’s see if it’s the Knicks who give him his confidence back.
Something to watch in this game will be the possessions when R.J. Barrett is guarded by Cedi Osman. Cedi’s not the greatest defender in the world, and that’s putting it lightly, so it’s a great opportunity for the wing to get some easy buckets however he likes in those spots.
The early dream of the Knicks sneaking into the playoffs—or the play-in—might be fading, and this game and the next against Chicago are winnable. If they lose tonight, they fall to four games under .500, and it might be too far to come back.