Led by rookie point guard Collin Sexton, the Cavs host the Knicks in Cleveland as New York’s own neophytes try to build off of solid momentum.
A showdown with the putrid Cleveland Cavaliers might just be what the doctor ordered for the struggling Knicks, who have dropped four straight.
As many expected, the Cavaliers have completely fallen off of the face of the earth after the departure of LeBron James and currently own the third-worst record in the NBA at 6-21. With Kevin Love out until mid-January and two of their better veteran players Kyle Korver and George Hill being shipped out of town, the Cavs now need to rely on Jordan Clarkson as their leading scorer. Ouch.
Despite the lack of talent on the Cavs’ roster, they do have some scrappy players who compete on a nightly basis like the recently re-acquired Matthew Dellavedova and promising rookie Collin Sexton. The Knicks will have their hands full with the rookie, who is averaging 22 points per game in his last four.
Here are some storylines to watch in tonight’s contest.
Fizdale mulling Knox in at small forward for Mario tonight.
— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) December 12, 2018
On the Knicks’ side, Kevin Knox could make an appearance in the starting lineup this evening coming off of a career game against the Charlotte Hornets. Knox was the first Knicks rookie since Patrick Ewing to put up 25+ points and 15+ rebounds in a game.
Not only has Knox taken his scoring up a notch, but he has looked extremely engaged in recent games and seems to be coming out of his shell. Showing aggression on the boards and increased movement without the ball are a couple things noticeable with the 19-year-old over the last month or so. Obviously, Knox has a lot of work to do on the defensive end of the floor, but you love to see the rookie beginning to build on great performances and develop a level of consistency the Knicks desperately need going forward.
Before the kids play tonight, it's time to revisit Frank Ntilikina & Kevin Knox's big night on Sunday vs. the Hornets.
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) December 12, 2018
This is the perfect opportunity to get him into the starting lineup. Knox should thrive against a less talented team like the Cavs and therefore have his confidence continue to build. If Coach Fiz decides to pull the trigger, Knox would take the starting spot of Mario Hezonja, who has been ineffective when given the opportunity to start games.
Opportunity for Frank
Like Knox, Frank Ntilikina has been money over the past few games. After being subjected to three DNP’s and a substantial amount of criticism and trade rumors, Frank has responded exceptionally. Despite fouling out last game against Charlotte, Frank made all of his three-point shots and poured in a career-high 18 points. Frank looks to build on his performance tonight in a game where he should see some significant minutes with the absence of Trey Burke and Allonzo Trier.
Although it is a small sample size, you have to love the way Ntilikina bounced back from being removed from the rotation not so long ago. The mental toughness and resilience of Frank resonated with Coach Fizdale and will allow him some more playing time and developmental opportunities going forward.
Offensively, look for Frank to equal his aggression from last game and be willing to hoist up threes and attack the rim, especially with the absence of Tristan Thompson. The Cavs are last in the NBA in defensive efficiency, which bodes well for Ntilikina, who is looking to become a rotation mainstay.
Defensively, Frank will likely be matched up with Collin Sexton and that in itself will be a challenge. Sexton possesses a Russell Westbrook–type motor and is constantly in attack mode. Frank, who is a very good defender will need to force Sexton into a jump shooter and not allow easy buckets at the rim.