After a blowout win over the Bucks, the Knicks kick off a four-game road trip against the Cavs, winners of three straight, due to their strong backcourt play.
The New York Knicks (1-2) will begin a four-game road trip starting in Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers (3-0) on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET. New York is coming off their first victory of the season on Sunday, a 130-110 win over the Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden.
After losing by 14 points to the Pacers and 20 points to the Sixers, it was important for the Knicks to bounce back as they did against Milwaukee. Not only was it an impressive performance from the team as a whole, but it was a confidence-building game for several young players on the roster.
R.J. Barrett recorded 17 points, eight rebounds, and four assists on 7-of-17 from the field after his 2-for-15 shooting night against the Sixers on Saturday. Frank Ntilkina had one of his best shooting performances as a Knick, draining all four three-pointers he took and scored 12 points in 19 minutes. Kevin Knox had seven points and four rebounds to go along with solid defense.
For the Cavs, the start to this season has been the best it could possibly be with three straight wins. After defeating the Hornets and Pistons, Cleveland proved those two wins weren’t just a result of bad opponents as they defeated the Sixers by 24 on Sunday, 118-94. Before this season, the Cavaliers seemed like they could have been a team the Knicks can get a win on early in the season. Now, head coach J.B Bickerstaff has this team rolling.
Here are some storylines to watch for on Tuesday night.
After last season, Julius Randle was the player who most fans thought had to be traded in the offseason. In 2019–20, the 26-year-old forward shot only 46.0% from the field, 27.7% from three on 3.6 attempts per game, and averaged 3.0 turnovers a game. Despite him also scoring 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, his inefficiency, turnovers, and playstyle presented a major problem for the Knicks. Randle made spacing nonexistent for New York.
Through three games, Randle has looked like a different player for the Knicks. He’s averaging 23.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 55.3% from the field and 55.6% from deep. All credit goes to Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the coaching staff for tweaking Randle’s game to better fit this team. Randle is moving the ball a lot more than last year, and it’s having a major impact on the team.
It’ll be nearly impossible for Randle to continue putting up the numbers he is now every single night, but if he can continue his new playstyle for as long as he’s on the roster, that’s a huge win for the Knicks. Not only does that help New York for this season, but it could help increase his trade value at the deadline or in the offseason.
Containing the Cavs’ Young Backcourt
The main cause for the Cavs’ 3-0 start is due to their young backcourt, Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. Sexton and Garland were Cleveland’s first-round picks in 2018 and 2019, respectively, and are working quite well together.
Sexton, the 21-year-old out of Alabama, is averaging 27.0 points and 3.7 assists per game on 59.3% from the field and 66.7% from long range through Cleveland’s first three games. Garland, the 20-year-old out of Vanderbilt, is averaging 19.0 points and 8.3 assists per game on 54.8% from the field and 50.0% from three through three games.
If the Knicks are going to win this game, at least one of Sexton or Garland is going to have to be held in check. As a result of this and Immanuel Quickley’s absence, it’s possible that we could see a decent amount of Frank Ntilkina minutes in this game for defensive purposes, especially if Ntilkina can continue to shoot the three at a decent percentage.
Outlier Three-Point Performances?
This is a matchup between two teams that were bad at three-point shooting in 2019-20. The Knicks ranked 27th in the NBA in three-point percentage at 33.7% and Cleveland ranked 20th in the NBA in three-point percentage at 35.1%. Through three games, the Knicks and the Cavs are the top three-point shooting teams in the NBA. The Cavaliers rank first at 43.4% from beyond the arc, while the Knicks rank second at 42.9%.
Against the Bucks, the Knicks shot 16-of-27 (59.3%) from downtown, which included 4-for-4 from three from Frank Ntilkina, 3-of-3 from Elfrid Payton, 4-of-5 from Alec Burks, and 3-for-5 from Randle. There’s no doubt that this will be an outlier performance this season, but can the Knicks remain a respectable three-point shooting team?
Against the Pacers, the Knicks saw a zone played against them, as Indiana was daring them to shoot. If the Knicks can continue to knock down triples at a decent rate, that’ll change this entire offense.
Another Tough Matchup for Mitchell Robinson
Cavs center Andre Drummond has gotten off to a solid start this season, averaging 20.3 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. This will be another tough matchup for Mitchell Robinson, who just saw Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the last two games.
Robinson has already shown improved discipline since the preseason and the first game, as he played 35 minutes versus Milwaukee while only recording two fouls. He’ll need to continue that going forward, as it’s a main point of emphasis for his development this season.
Rookies Obi Toppin (strained right calf) and Immanuel Quickley (sore left hip) will miss their second straight games, according to Knicks PR. Toppin will likely be re-evaluated at some point this upcoming weekend, while Quickley is day-to-day and can return as soon as Thursday against the Raptors.
Injury Report 12/29 at CLE: Probable – Knox (sore left knee); Questionable – Burks (sprained left ankle); Out – Quickley (sore left hip), Rivers (sore groin), Spellman (sore right knee) and Toppin (strained right calf).
— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) December 28, 2020
With Quickley out, Elfrid Payton picked a great time to play his best game as a Knicks. He dropped 27 points on 12-of-16 shooting to go along with seven assists on Sunday night. He’ll have to play well again for the Knicks to have success.
Austin Rivers (sore groin), Omari Spellman (sore right knee), and Dennis Smith Jr, (contused left quad) will all be out on Tuesday as well, according to the team. Rivers and Spellman have yet to make their debuts this season.
Alec Burks, who’s averaging 20.7 points while shooting 66.7% on 5.0 attempts per game from beyond the arc, is questionable due to a sprained left ankle. This could be a big loss for the Knicks if he misses the game. Burks had been an initiator for the offense off the bench thus far this season.