Cavs Vs. Knicks Series Preview And Prediction

Cavs vs. Knicks series preview and prediction

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Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and You can follow him on Twitter at @RealDCunningham.


The Cleveland Cavaliers are set to take on the New York Knicks beginning on Saturday in the first round of the NBA playoffs. There are questions worth looking at for both teams and certainly areas where each team has the advantage. We take a look at that and more in our series preview.


Where the Cavs have the advantage: The stars


Entering this series, the Cavs have more top end talent than the Knicks do. The starting lineup for the Cavs features three All-Stars in Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, and Jarrett Allen, as well as a likely Defensive Player of the Year finalist in Evan Mobley.


On paper, the Cavs have the best player in the series in Mitchell. He’s the only guy in this series that’s clearly in the upper echelon of players in the NBA. There can be a debate after that as far as who is the second-best. There is no debate, however, that the Cavs have four of the six best players in the series. Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle are terrific for New York, but the drop off for the Knicks starts there.


This season was the best of Mitchell’s career in terms of scoring and efficiency. Mobley was stellar defensively and took a giant leap on the offensive end of the floor in the second half of the season. Garland is one of the more underrated players in basketball at this point and could use this playoff run as a springboard to bigger stardom. Allen will spend this series battling inside, but is one of the best deterrents at the rim in the entire league.


It's also worth looking at how things played out last postseason in the Western Conference. So much has been said about Brunson (then on the Dallas Mavericks) ending the run of Mitchell in Utah. In that series Mitchell was abysmal defensively and shot just 20 percent from 3-point range. In Mitchell’s career he’s played in seven playoff series. His most recent one was arguably his worst.


After the season he had for the Cavs, it’s difficult to envision him being anything but the best player on the floor.


Where the Knicks have the advantage: Depth


The Knicks boast the potential Sixth Man of the Year in Immanuel Quickly and plenty of other pieces that can give the Cavs fits. Quentin Grimes is a solid point of attack defender, Josh Hart does all the little things to create winning, Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein are tough to deal with on the glass, and there are times when RJ Barrett can carry a second unit.


That’s something that’s tough for the Cavs to match. Right now, there are seven guys that can be counted on, presuming small forward Isaac Okoro is healthy enough to play. Anything outside of the starting five, Ricky Rubio, and Caris LeVert is a giant question mark for the Cavs. That’s not a problem the Knicks have.


Biggest question for the Cavs: Can Caris LeVert keep it up?


LeVert has spent the last six weeks playing some of the best basketball of his career. He’s a guy that’s been on this stage before – losing a pair of first round series during his time with the Brooklyn Nets – but in a much different role. Back then, LeVert was a primary scorer that shouldered a lot of responsibility to put points on the board. Now he’s asked to defend one of the opponent’s best perimeter players, create offense for others, and make open 3-pointers on catch-and-shoot opportunities.


LeVert had a difficult month of February shooting the basketball, making just 21.7 percent from long range on 2.6 attempts per game. During that time he averaged just six points per game.


Since the calendar flipped to March, LeVert has done everything well on both ends of the floor. He’s averaging 14.1 points per game while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 48.8 percent from deep. If those numbers keep up, the Cavs offense hits a gear that the Knicks likely can’t stop.


Biggest question for the Knicks: How is the health of Julius Randle?


So much of the spotlight in New York has been on Brunson, and understandably so. He’s been their engine that makes things go. He was the sexy offseason addition that helped to change the franchise from one that looked stuck in mud last March to one that has a bright future. But he also may not have been the best player on the team for the majority of the season.


Randle was that good. That’s what makes his ankle injury such a big deal. For as much as Brunson is the calming presence that’s kept the Knicks steady, Randle has been the attitude that puts them into position.


There’s little doubt he’s going to tough it out and find his way on the floor when the series begins on Saturday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The question worth asking is just how close to 100 percent will he be? Is Randle at 60 percent health better than the next option the Knicks have? Is that actually something that would help the Cavs? The answers to those questions won’t be found out until Saturday at the earliest.


Prediction: Cavs in five


If the Knicks had a fully healthy version of Randle I would pick this to be a longer series. I trust that he’ll be out there for New York, but I don’t trust that he’s going to be anything close to his normal self at the start of the series.


For the Cavs, I think this series will put Mitchell back on the map after his playoff failure last season with the Utah Jazz and serve as a national coming out party for Mobley.


If Randle’s health weren’t a question heading into the series, I would pick a longer series. If he comes out and looks great in Game 1, I’ll feel like this will be wrong, but until that’s seen, I’m going with the Cavs to advance past the Knicks in five games.