The Knicks are not at home for once on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as they face Collin Sexton and the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road.
The New York Knicks (11-32) are at Cleveland Monday to play against the Cavaliers (12-31) who, like New York, have been quite a mess this season.
Both teams have had coaching drama, players who don’t want to be there, bad offenses, really bad defense, and playing veterans meaningless minutes over young guys when the teams are not winning games. The Cavs and the Knicks in their last 10 games are both 2-8. So, yeah, expect some pretty ugly basketball at times during this contest.
Knicks Injury Report
Knicks standout rookie R.J. Barrett will not be available tonight as he is still recovering from his sprained ankle he suffered during the Suns game. He should be getting re-evaluated later in the week.
Dennis Smith Jr. likely will remain out with the oblique injury he sustained last month. All other Knicks appear to be ready for today’s game.
Miller Playing Vet Heavy Minutes
Head coach Mike Miller, despite being better than ex-coach David Fizdale, has carried over some of the same bad habits from his predecessor’s tenure. Miller still starts Taj Gibson over Mitchell Robinson, and plays other veterans on expiring deals huge minutes over any of the Knicks’ young core.
Last game against the Sixers, the minute distribution heavily favored the veterans—but it’s hard to complain when the Knicks played semi-competent basketball in that game.
Losing games just sucks, and if the Knicks are going to be as bad as they are, playing the young core and watching them slowly develop game-to-game would be better than seeing Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock get nearly 35 minutes in a loss.
Frank Should Get Lots of Minutes
The Cavs start two point guards in Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, but are 28th in assists per game (via NBA Stats), one spot above the Knicks. Cleveland has been an iso-heavy offense all year and the rumors of players not liking the way Sexton plays the position have been leaked to the media again.
But that is why today is a perfect opportunity for New York’s defensive wing stopper Frank Ntilikina to have a huge game. Both Garland and Sexton are more combo guards than lead guards, and look to create for themselves more than for others. We’ve seen Ntilikina have some of his best games against player archetypes like this in the past.
Feed Marcus Morris Sr.
The Cavs are second-to-last in defensive efficiency with a 114.6 Defensive Rating. They don’t have a single defender on the wing that can hang with any teams good wing players, and they don’t anyone who can protect the paint. Cleveland ranks dead last in opponent points in the paint.
Cedi Osman is likely going to start on Morris, and with how well Mook has been operating in the midrange and from beyond the arc this season, he should eat him up.
Morris is shooting nearly five free-throw attempts per game and making them at an 82% clip. With the Cavs’ lack of rim protection, or defense on the perimeter, or any defense at all for that matter, he should be trying to get the paint at will.
Randle Favorable Matchup
Knicks power forward Julius Randle has had an underwhelming campaign in his first year in New York. A signing that many were excited for because of his continuous improvement year after year, Randle hasn’t panned out like expected. Despite his struggles, he has looked much more like his former self under Mike Miller, and in today’s game has a match up in which he should feast.
Cleveland power forward Kevin Love has been one of the best three-point shooting bigs of our time, but also one of the worst defensively. Randle has a good face up game where he catches the ball from beyond the arc, foul line extended, or the short corner, and hits the defender with a few jabs before putting the ball on the floor and going to work. If the Cavs decide to go with Love on him, (one would assume they will because Thompson is their only hope of rim protection) Randle should be living in the paint and at the foul line all game.
- Mitchell Robinson should get major minutes. Cavs guards tend to have tunnel vision while driving and he’s one of the NBA’s best shot-blockers. Also, no one is stopping a lob to him.
- If Payton and Randle can get into the paint at will, the Knicks will have shooters wide open on the wing.
- Cavaliers’ best player is Kevin Love. The Knicks have multiple bodies who can guard him.
The Knicks are losers of three straight and will look to snap that losing streak tonight at 5 p.m. ET. After today’s game they head back to New York to play the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.