Hosting the Cavaliers (29-19) on Tuesday night, the Knicks (25-23) will try to avoid losing their fifth straight game, and third straight at home.
With Donovan Mitchell likely to play this one, the Knicks will have yet another challenge, facing a Cavaliers team that is fighting for a top spot in the Eastern Conference. After a red-hot start to kickoff 2023, New York hasn’t won a game after losing Mitchell Robinson to a thumb injury, with their interior defense having taken a major hit as a result. Going 0-4 in that span, the coaching staff needs to figure out ways to win without them, and against a team that features Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen in the front court, that may be difficult to achieve. Nonetheless, the Knicks will look to their depth for answers in this one.
Players like Jericho Sims, Obi Toppin, and Evan Fournier have all seen some time in the rotation in the absence of Robinson and Immanuel Quickley (sore left knee) who is questionable for tonight’s game. It will be interesting to see how the Knicks and Tom Thibodeau’s rotations fare against a Cavaliers team that is ranked 2nd in defensive rating this season. New York must come ready to play from top to bottom to break out of their slump and compete with Cleveland.
Give Toppin the time he deserves
It has been a rough year for Obi Toppin. From the inconsistent rotations to the knee injury that sidelined him for 15 games, this season has not been kind to him. Now back from injury and settling back into the flow of the game, it’s time that he sees more responsibility in the rotation. With Robinson set to miss some time and Isaiah Hartenstein and Sims not providing a ton on either end, the Knicks need to give the former 2020 lottery pick a chance, considering how his career has panned out with Julius Randle blossoming at the power forward position since his rookie year.
For his career, Toppin has averaged 14.6 minutes per game, which is extremely low for a lottery pick that was selected 8th overall just three years ago. Unconvinced by Obi’s ability to throw down a gravity-defying dunk, knock down a big three, or contribute some of the things that the Knicks could use more of right now such as rim-running and cutting to the basket, Thibodeau has remained reluctant to play him. With limited options left on the table, Thibs should look to use Toppin, even if it means rolling out a lineup that features him alongside Randle in a small-ball lineup. New York needs answers and he can certainly provide that if given a larger role.
A slow-paced game will hurt the Knicks
This game will feature two teams that rank near the bottom of the league in pace as New York ranks 26th overall and Cleveland coming in at dead last. Both teams will look to lock into their half-court defense and put together some runs that way. The Knicks must stay composed against a Cavaliers team that looks to control the game with their slow tempo. Even with their methodical approach on the offensive side of things, Cleveland does a great job in transition defense, ranking top-10 in opponent’s points off turnovers (9th), 2nd-chance points (1st), and points in the paint (3rd). Guard play will be extremely crucial for the Knicks in tonight’s game as Mobley and Allen’s size and great intangibles on defense will make it tough for the Knicks big men to get down to business.
The Knicks big three will need to put as many points on the board as they can in order to keep this one in the rearview mirror. The last time these two teams faced off against each other the Knicks top 3 of Barrett, Brunson, and Randle scored 56 points altogether on a brutal 39% shooting from the field. It will likely be Brunson and Barrett taking the majority of the load in this affair, considering getting quality shots in the paint will be difficult for Julius Randle. Regardless, New York will need to play outside-in to open the floor and get good looks to have a fighting chance. Playing a small-ball lineup would be interesting for the Knicks, especially if they have a three-point shooter at center, which would force Jarrett Allen out of the paint, opening a lane to the basket in the process. Most importantly, the Knicks must be able to properly read what is being thrown at them, and will have to make adjustments accordingly.
Matchup to watch: Donovan Mitchell versus Quentin Grimes
Following an offseason that saw the Knicks pass on Donovan Mitchell and retain guys like RJ Barrett and Quentin Grimes, this matchup will be interesting to say the least. While Barrett and Grimes have put together average seasons for the Knicks, Mitchell has made Cleveland a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference, knocking on the door of Boston, Milwaukee, and Brooklyn as the fight for the top spot only gets tighter from here on out. Scoring has always been a strength of Mitchell’s and it’ll be up to Grimes to prove himself in the matchup. Although his defense has been poor in the most recent stretch of games, Grimes will undoubtedly bounce back with this impending matchup against the player he was rumored to be traded for.
In his last game against the Cavaliers, Grimes put up just four points, two steals, and a block in 40 minutes of play. Grimes has, at times, been something of an afterthought in a Knicks offense that focuses heavily on pick-and-rolls and isolations. Against Cleveland’s strong interior defense, Grimes will need to be trigger-happy from beyond the arc and become more aggressive driving to the basket to help facilitate a Knicks offense that ranks 27th in assists per game. While it may be difficult for him to get shots in the offense given that the Knicks top three takes a high volume of shots, the players and coaching staff must recognize how challenging it will be to score on the inside, and will look to the perimeter to get things going to open up the floor. Quentin Grimes will have a chip on his shoulder in this game, as he looks to prove to Knicks fans that he is an important part of what the organization is trying to build under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
Tip-off is at 7:30 pm Eastern.