There are some interesting storylines between these two teams, starting with the fact that both pursued All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell in the trade market this past offseason.
Cleveland ended up winning the bidding war, acquiring Mitchell from the Utah Jazz, but the Knicks still put together an impressive regular season thanks to Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle.
The Cavs have a chance to make the Knicks regret missing out on Mitchell in the first round, but this series isn’t going to be an easy one for Cleveland.
In the four meetings between these two teams this season, New York won three of them, only losing the first matchup between the squads on Oct. 30.
The last meeting between these teams came in late March, with Brunson scoring a season-high 48 points in a double-digit Knicks win. Jarrett Allen and Randle both missed that game, and there are questions about whether or not Randle will be ready for Game 1 of this series.
The Knicks All-Star forward sprained his ankle on March 29 against the Miami Heat and did not participate in the contact portion of practice on Tuesday. If he does play, it will be a huge boost for the Knicks.
The Cavs finished the regular season with the No. 2 net rating in the NBA, so the team has high expectations for this postseason. Here are five keys for the Cavs in their first-round matchup with the Knicks:
1. Win the 3-point battle
The reason why this is so important is because New York ranks 27th in opponent 3-pointers made while the Cavs clock in at No. 2. That’s a serious advantage for Cleveland, yet the season series didn’t really show that.
In the first meeting between these teams, Cleveland shot 23-for-50 from beyond the arc, limiting the Knicks to just 10 made shots from deep in that game. The Cavs went on to win by a score of 121-108.
The three matchups that Cleveland lost? Well, the 3-point battle was much closer.
The second meeting was a low-scoring 92-81 win by New York where Cleveland shot just 8-for-35 from beyond the arc. In the third game between these teams, the Cavs lost by two points, shooting 12-for-33 from 3-point range.
New York shot 17-for-33 from deep in that game, edging out Cleveland by 15 points from deep.
On March 31, both teams made 17 3-pointers, but Cleveland actually needed one more attempt than the Knicks to reach that number. It’s still a strong shooting game for the Cavs, but they ended up losing by double digits.
Whenever Cleveland didn’t have a significant advantage from 3, New York came away victorious. Based on the season-long numbers, the Cavs’ defense should be able to slow down the Knicks from deep.
If not, the team could be in trouble based on the previous results.
2. Keep RJ Barrett out the paint
New York’s No. 3 option on offense is Barrett, and he’s struggled mightily this season shooting the basketball.
While Barrett is posting his best field-goal percentage from 2-point range (49.5 percent) of his career, he’s also shooting just 31.0 percent from 3, the worst of his career.
The numbers are even more concerning when one looks at Barrett’s shooting outside of three feet. On field-goal attempts that are within three feet of the basket, Barrett is shooting 64.2 percent this season.
That number dips to 40.1 percent when he is three to 10 feet from the basket and to just 30.0 percent from between 10 and 16 feet.
If Cleveland can keep Barrett out of the paint, he is an extremely inefficient scorer from other areas on the floor. That would hinder the Knicks’ offense, and with Randle banged up, it would leave a lot of pressure on Brunson to score at a high level.
3. Limit Knicks offensive rebounds
In the final meeting of the regular season between these teams, the Knicks grabbed an absurd 16 offensive rebounds.
On the season, New York ranks second in the NBA in both rebounding percentage and offensive rebounding percentage.
The Cavs have the size in their frontcourt to limit the Knicks on the glass, but they have to block out Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein and Randle to stop them from getting second-chance looks.
The Cavs ranked just 20th in the NBA in rebounding percentage in the regular season, so the team has to take a serious step forward in that aspect in this series.
4. Control home court
This seems like a simple concept, but the issue for the Cavs is that the team has not fared well on the road this season.
Cleveland went 20-21 on the road in the regular season while the Knicks are one of the best road teams in the NBA, going 24-17. Only the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers had more road wins in the Eastern Conference.
New York won both meetings against the Cavs at Madison Square Garden in the regular season, and the last thing the Cavs want is to fall behind early in the series before it shifts back to Cleveland.
Starting off with two home wins will give Cleveland a huge edge in the series.
5. Contain Julius Randle
If he is healthy enough to play in this series, Randle is going to be one of the focal points for Cleveland on defense.
However, the Knicks All-Star showed in the 2021 postseason that he can be turnover prone when double teamed.
The Atlanta Hawks forced Randle to turn the ball over 23 times in five games, including an eight-turnover game in Game 5 of that series.
Evan Mobley is an elite defender at the forward spot, and he will likely draw the assignment on Randle to start the series. By giving Mobley some help and occasionally doubling, the Cavs may be able to force Randle into some bad decisions in this series.
If Randle struggles, the Knicks are going to have a hard time winning since he leads the team in points and rebounds per game.