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Ntilikina, Knicks Await Showdown with LeBron and Cavs

LeBron’s struggling Cavs team comes to MSG to face the rising Knicks amid a mini-controversial storm created by James’ criticism of New York’s passing on Dennis Smith Jr.

Let the games begin. The 7-5 Knicks welcome King James and the 6-7 Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night. This was scheduled to be just another regular game on the schedule, then LeBron did what LeBron does best—create something out of nothing.

Following the Cavs’ win in Dallas against the basement-dwelling Mavericks, James had high praise for Mavs rookie Dennis Smith Jr. In his postgame interview, this is what he told reporters:

“The Knicks passed on a really good one,” he said. “Dallas got the diamond in the rough. He should be a Knick. That’s gonna make some headlines but he should be a Knick. Dallas is definitely excited that he didn’t go there.”

For those that do not know, LeBron has apparently mentored DSJ for quite some time. You can see how that relationship plus Phil Jackson’s infamous “posse” comment rubbed LeBron the wrong way. Nonetheless his comments come at an optimal time. You can bet the house most of the talk will center around LeBron’s comments and not about how good the Knicks have been since their 0-3 start to the season (7-2 in their last nine games).

Shrewd move from LeBron, but the Knicks will be ready. Kristaps Porzingis has already come out and defended Frank Ntilikina, who LeBron indirectly dissed. Enes Kanter also chimed in so you can also bet the house that the Knicks want to hand the Cavs another L. In their first meeting Tim Hardaway Jr., and Porzingis went off enroute to a 114-95 win.

Jeff Hornacek will not have to pump up his troops much, LeBron did that already. Let’s breakdown the headlines heading into tonight’s suddenly much anticipated tilt.


Decoding the King

This will be the main talking point of the evening so let’s get to the bottom of it. According to LeBron, his comments were not a shot at Frank but at Phil Jackson who stepped away from the organization in the summer—after making the call in drafting eighth overall pick Frank Ntilikina.

Okay, assuming he’s telling the truth why throw a shot now and not at the draft? You’ve known DSJ has been good for quite some time. I’m buying that he took a shot at Phil but also selling that it was his only target. Was the other target Frank? KP? The Knicks?

In case you didn’t know, LeBron is a free agent once again at season’s end. Is he testing how Porzingis will defend his guys? Is he seeing if the Knicks will roll over tonight? Does he want to see what Frank is all about? We have already seen LeBron send the media into a frenzy by attending Lonzo Ball’s summer league game. This could be yet another petty ploy to get us up in arms over nothing or is this something to keep in mind tonight and for the rest of the season?

It is not out of the realm of possibility that LeBron considers New York in free agency. Porzingis has proven to be a force that most teams simply cannot stop. Then there is the whole allure of being the title drought ender. He was seen taking the subway this afternoon so maybe he is scoping the city out after all.

The rational answer is that LeBron wanted to get up for this game. What better way to get the adrenaline pumping then riling up the opposing team. LeBron has noted he loves to play at MSG. Maybe we are in store for a special performance.


Show Me What You Got

To his credit, Frank handled the DSJ comment like a pro. In response to the question, Frank said he has “nothing to prove to anyone.” Smart answer from a smart kid. But deep down you know that had to feel like subtle shade. Frank did not exactly light it up when the Knicks were in Cleveland (five points, three assists, three rebounds, and two steals). Tonight is an opportune time for Frank to show LeBron what he’s all about.

That doesn’t mean he has to play outside of himself and try and go off for 30. That’s not his game. His game is defense. Frank had a nice sequence against Dwyane Wade in his first meeting. Since then, Hornacek has given him more playing time, and the rookie has gotten better with each passing minute (especially in the time he’s shared the court with Porzingis). How does Frank handle crunch time minutes tonight? If he’s switched on to LeBron, how would he handle the King?

Let us not forget, to beat the Warriors you need guys that can cut the floor in half. Porzingis might not be the only person that interests LeBron on this team; having someone like Frank who can defend the perimeter is a tantalizing prospect for defensively minded folks. The ball is now in the rookie’s court. He has impressed us already, now it’s time to see if he impresses the King.


Welcome Back

How ironic that Joakim Noah’s first game back off a suspension is being overshadowed by LeBron. Joakim and LeBron get along as well candy corn and taste buds, and in case you didn’t know, Joakim is also not too fond of Cleveland.

There will be no friendly banter tonight. The positive is that Joakim knows LeBron better than anyone on the Knicks so he could be the perfect person to settle down a pumped up Frank or KP.

From a Knicks perspective, Joakim’s return further clogs an already packed big man rotation. Willy Hernangómez is already riding pine, will Joakim or Kyle O’Quinn be forced to do the same? Hornacek will have to juggle a lot of minutes in the front court, but the good news is the Cavs are thin at the big man spot with Tristan Thompson out. Whoever is on the floor should win their respective match up pulling down boards.


Matchup of the Night: Kristaps Porzingis vs. LeBron James

There seems to be a theme going on. LeBron has his fingerprints all over this game, mostly because he’s the only noteworthy Cav. Sure Kevin Love has been good, but Love is always good. Porzingis had no trouble taking him on in Cleveland and should be able to get off shots against him tonight. This match up is more of an alpha showdown.

Regardless of LeBron’s plans, this is Porzingis’ team. LeBron not-so-indirectly dissed one of his guys. Porzingis already verbally responded but talk is cheap in this city. These two may not lock horns a lot during the game, but they will likely be competing against each other. Porzingis comes in averaging 30.4 points per game, good for second in the league. Last game he cruised to 34 points in just 27 minutes of action against the Kings and has hit the 30 point threshold in all but two games this season.

Tonight, expect Porzingis to try and pour in on the Cavs. LeBron sounds like he will try and do something similar. Luckily none of the Knicks talked messy so this is not another Wizards situation. But that doesn’t mean LeBron will not try and go for 50 tonight. This is yet another leadership test for Porzingis. Let’s see how he handles the pressure.

Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. on MSG Network, be there people.

Staff Writer, The Knicks Wall • Ahead of the Spread • Hardwood & Hollywood • Heat Check Podcast

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