Tonight, the Knicks travel to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers in the third game of the teams’ four-game season series. After playing host to the Utah Jazz on Friday night, it will be New York’s second game of a back-to-back.
Here’s what I’ll be watching for:
Playoff implications: Despite a combined record of just 47-79 between the Knicks and Cavaliers, tonight’s game has legitimate playoff implications. Both teams are still within striking distance of the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot; Cleveland sits three-and-a-half games out, while New York is four-and-a-half off the pace.
The Atlanta Hawks–currently 26-34 and currently clinging onto the eighth seed–have struggled mightily since the beginning of February, which has kept the postseason door open for the Detroit Pistons, the Cavs, and the Knicks.
A win tonight for the Knicks would move them into a tie for tenth in the East and could pull them to within three-and-a-half games of the Hawks, while a loss–especially with a record that gives New York so little room for error–could prove to be a setback in making a late-season playoff push.
Amar’e, J.R. starting? In the Knicks’ last three games, head coach Mike Woodson has inserted J.R. Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire into the starting lineup in place of Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni.
Despite a loss to Detroit in the first game experimenting with the new starters, the bigger lineup proved effective in the wins over the T-Wolves and Jazz. New York outscored Minnesota by 14 in the first quarter of Wednesday’s game and outscored Utah by 17 in the first quarter of Friday’s game.
Because of that success, it would be surprising–to say the least–if Woodson opted not to use the same starting lineup in tonight’s game.
Winning streak: By following up Wednesday’s win in Minnesota with a victory over the Jazz on Friday, the Knicks won consecutive games for the first time since January 28th and 30th.
After tonight, New York’s next three opponents are three of the Eastern Conference’s four worst teams–the Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics, and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Assuming the Knicks will be able to take care of business in each of those games, only one team stands between them and what would be a season-best six-game winning streak: the Cavaliers.
The Cavs are suffering through another losing season, but they have played well at Quicken Loans Arena, where they are only a game under .500 (15-16). In fact, in early-December, Cleveland played host to New York and–thanks largely to Kyrie Irving’s 37-point, 11-assist night–earned a 109-94 win.
Translation: For the Knicks, a win in Cleveland won’t be easy to come by. But, if they are fortunate enough to see a positive outcome, it could serve as the bridge to a lengthy winning streak.
Prediction: New York Knicks 106, Cleveland Cavaliers 95
Right now, I truly believe that the Knicks are a different team than they were a week ago. At halftime of Friday’s game against the Jazz, New York center Tyson Chandler compared the team’s win in Minnesota on Wednesday with a win last February in Utah–a win in Utah that helped turn the team’s 2012-13 season around.
Like last year’s win in Utah, the victory at Minnesota was the final game of a road trip. And, like last year’s win in Utah, the victory at Minnesota snapped a losing streak.
Chandler and the rest of his teammates are hoping the win at Minnesota will serve as a turning point, just as last year’s win at Utah did. That win over the Jazz helped catapult New York to the Eastern Conference’s second seed, while Wedneday’s win over the Timberwolves could–perhaps, at least–catapult New York into the postseason
Can the Knicks actually make the playoffs? I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that they should win tonight against a Cavs team that has lost three in a row.