Game Preview & Thread: Knicks vs. Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers stumble into Madison Square Garden to take on the Knicks at 8:00 EST this evening. Like the Celtics — never a good way to start a sentence — the Cavs are not playing good basketball right now. To help get a better idea of what we should expect from the club tonight I brought in Conrad Kaczmarek of Fear The Sword and Eric Maroun of Hardwood Paroxysm. Enjoy!

The Cavs have lost four of their last five games coming into tonight. What have been their biggest problems, and how can the Knicks take advantage?

Conrad: The Cavs are an incredibly inconsistent team, specifically on offense. They’ll look great and fluid for one quarter and then be absolutely horrible the next. Honestly, if the Knicks just give solid effort for 48 minutes and don’t really mess up, then the Cavs will probably go through such a horrible dry spell that they’ll beat themselves.

Eric: Aside from offense, defense, and coaching, the Cavs have been great! In all seriousness, the offense becomes stagnant far too often, and the play call is basically “Pray that Kyrie Irving can make something happen in isolation.” The team was constructed around Irving, a ball dominant guard, which is fine in theory except for the fact that they surrounded him with similar type players who need the ball in their hands in Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack. Although CJ Miles has played well this year, they lack consistent outside shooting as a whole. Waiters goes through stretches where you feel like he’s a threat from anywhere on the floor, but then he’ll go 3-14 the next game.

For instance, in his last seven games, he’s scored 18, 9, 0, 15, 13, 4, and 21 points. You literally have no idea what you’re getting from him on any given night. In the post, they don’t have a reliable post up threat as Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao tend to score on the basis of their offensive rebounding abilities. Tyler Zeller has looked much improved from last year, but he still needs to add muscle to his frame because he gets pushed around by the bigger centers in the league. Defensively, they are extremely weak at the guard positions with Irving being the primary culprit. The Cavs also rank 26th in the league in fast break points (the Knicks are 30th) which means that they are not creating turnovers that lead to easy buckets. When you have a bland offensive system, you need to be able to score easy points if at all possible, and Cleveland has struggled with that all year. Coaching wise, I’m not sure what Mike Brown says in the locker room, but it’s clearly not working. Too often, the Cavs find themselves in first quarter holes that they can’t recover from or teams pull away from them in the third quarter.

The most notable instance of this was this past Sunday when they were outscored 25-6 in the third quarter by Phoenix. And don’t even get me started on their out of bounds plays which have been nothing short of an abject disaster all year long, peaking with a five second call with two seconds left in the game last week against Dallas when they were going for the tie. All of that being said, the best way for the Knicks to take advantage tonight is jump out to an early lead. The Cavs are not built to come back from large deficits so if New York can pull away early, you can just about chalk up a W.

How has Luol Deng fared thus far in Cleveland? I found it pretty interesting the team has a +/- of -22 with the Irving/Waiters/Deng/Thompson/Varejao lineup, but +16 with Irving/Miles/Deng/Thompson/Varejao. Why do you think that is?

Conrad: Deng’s been pretty good. He’s still adjusting to everything and it’s obvious that there isn’t much chemistry there yet (although to be fair, there’s no chemistry between any players on this team). That’s not a surprising stat to me. The Cavs’ best lineups are often the ones that have the most veterans in them. This team is just so incredibly young that any time there’s too many young guys on the court, everything falls apart.

Eric: When you’re running some combination of Earl Clark, Alonzo Gee, and Anthony Bennett out at the SF for the duration of the season, there are few players that wouldn’t be an upgrade. Adding a former All-Star like Deng to man that position was a bonus for the Cavs. I think Deng is still fitting into the system, and mentally needs to adjust to being around a team that is simply not used to winning games the way that Chicago has for Deng’s career. As much as we joke about the term “veteran leadership,” that’s really what Cleveland needs as their entire core of Irving, Waiters, Bennett, Thompson, and Zeller are all under 24 years old. Irving in particular has never been around anyone who is used to winning like Deng. He needs to be a sponge and soak up as much knowledge as he can from Deng while he is here.

Regarding the +/- discrepancies, as I touched on in the last question, having two ball dominant guards in Irving and Waiters makes the offense stagnant at times. Miles has shown the ability to spot up from beyond the arc and knock down shots which allows Cleveland to stretch the floor when he’s on it. Deng has also been a pleasant surprise from downtown since coming to Cleveland. He was shooting 27.4% from 3 as a Bull, but in 10 games with the Cavs, he’s connecting on 37.0% of his three point shots.

The Knicks obviously struggle defending quality point guards and Kyrie Irving is obviously one of the best in the East. However, his offensive numbers are down this season and his defense hasn’t really improved that much either. What’s your take on Kyrie’s season thus far?

Conrad: His defense has gotten better, but it’s obviously not where we need it to be yet. His offense has been fine. He had a disastrous November shooting the ball, but since December started, he’s been extremely efficient. The problem is that this is his third year in the league and everybody was expecting him to make some giant leap into that super-elite level. Obviously that hasn’t happened. He’s still very good, it’s just not the improvement that we had hoped for.

Eric: Disappointing? Frustrating? Infuriating? All of the above? I absolutely love Kyrie Irving, but it’s safe to say he has taken a step backwards from where he was last year. I’m not sure if he’s been reading his press clippings too much, is clashing with coaches and/or teammates behind the scenes, or something else, but his attitude has been subpar both on and off the court. Even his most dedicated fans and ardent defenders are starting to get fed up with him treating defense as a completely optional endeavor.

On the offensive side, he’s forcing shots up late in games that aren’t dropping like they did last year, and all too frequently he simply takes too long to get going in a game. Plus, Chad Ford said in his chat today that Irving has been telling people privately he wants out of Cleveland which certainly won’t help his cause with the fan base. While he was hurt for most of the past two years, this is three straight seasons now that the Cavs have been dismal, and since he is the cornerstone of this rebuild process, Irving is going to take the majority of the heat. On the plus side, he’s still just 21 years old, is starting in the All-Star game, and when he’s feeling it, is still one of the most fun players to watch in the league. So he’s got that going for him which is nice.

The Cavs offense is a mess, but they do have a DRtg that puts them at 19th in the league. What do the Cavs do well defensively? Should we expect a lot of Deng on Melo?

Conrad:  Deng will absolutely be guarding Melo, unless the Knicks go small and then he’ll probably be matched up with Tristan Thompson. The Cavs aren’t great defensively, as indicated by their below average ranking on that side of the ball. I think the effort level has been better at times and guys generally just know where they’re supposed to be. When they’re at home, they can play some very good defense. Unfortunately, it all kind of falls apart when they go on the road. Where’s this game being played tonight? Oh crap.

Eric: They play in the East against some pretty awful teams which greatly helps matters. However, they are still in the bottom half of the league defensively, so it’s hard to say that they’re doing anything extremely well. Anderson Varejao has certainly lost a step, but is still a very good pick and roll defender. The flip side of that is the aforementioned disaster that is Kyrie Irving as the other half of that defensive PnR combo. Tristan Thompson and Varejao are also excellent at cleaning off the glass which has been a main driver behind the Cavs posting the eighth best DReb% in the league (per While generally a middle of the pack defensive team, they are still much improved from the 27th ranked defense in DRtg that they had last year. Deng is far and away the Cavs best wing defender, so he should be glued to Melo at all times if the Cavs want any chance of winning this game.

With all that said, how do you think the game this evening plays out?

Conrad:  I think one of these teams will win. Since the Cavs are such a disaster on the road, it will probably be the Knicks. I expect Kyrie Irving to score lots and lots of points though.

Eric: Trying to predict anything involving the Cavs is about as difficult and messy as nailing Jello to a tree. Earlier this year they knocked off the Clippers and Knicks in back to back games, held a lead against Indiana for three quarters, and played two wildly entertaining games against Portland. On the other hand, they lost by 44 to the Kings and blew an 18 point lead in the span of one quarter against Phoenix this month alone. Anyone that says that they know what they’re getting from this team is either a psychic or a liar, and I don’t believe in psychics. Since you asked though, I’ll take a shot and say Knicks win 98-89.

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Chase Thomas

Chase Thomas is new to KnickerBlogger but has written about the Knicks for years now. Was in attendance for Nate Robinson's 41 point night versus the Hawks. Successfully annoyed Allan Houston's assistant for talking his ear off while sitting next to him at a Knicks game 3 years ago. Follow him on twitter:

111 thoughts to “Game Preview & Thread: Knicks vs. Cavs”

  1. I’d love to say I think the Knicks are going to take care of business, but I feel kind of like these Cleveland bros in that I have no idea what to expect from this team game to game. They’ve basically been alternating stretches of competent winning ball, with horrific isolation heavy, defenseless ball for the past 2 months so who knows?

  2. Woodson, asked whether Melo’s simply better without another PF on the court: “I’m not gonna say that. … We don’t know if it works or not.”

    Woodson on the small lineup: “It works. I don’t even know that I’ll go away from it this time.”

  3. Amazing how Woodson learned that lesson last year (due to injuries in the frontcourt), forgot it this year, then learned it all over again (again, due to injuries up front). Can we just send Annie Wilkes to hobble Bargs before Woodson unlearns it again?

  4. “It works. I don’t even know that I’ll go away from it this time.”

    I mean. . .I don’t even. . .it’s just a lot to unpack.

  5. Woodson is truly amazing.

    Side note: My friend’s uncle who is an executive for the Celtics hooked me and my buddy up with VIP passes for All-Star weekend in New Orleans. Best part is that the Celtics are essentially paying for the passes, flight, hotel and food for the entire weekend, which means a Knick fan is successfully leeching off of and sucking resources out of the Celtics.

  6. I actually think woody was trying to protect Melo , implying that it doesn’t matter which position he play he is still a great player regardless.

    That’s the only thing that I can come up with

  7. all the injuries means Tour’e has to play right? I want to see if he can establish himself as a defender. He hasn’t looked great the last few real chances he got. imo

  8. Anybody watching the Pacers circle jerk happening over on TNT? Is Lance Stephenson paying these guys for good PR? I think he should have made it over JJ also, but I also would have put Lowry over both of them. I am surprised he didn’t get the nod over Derozan.

  9. They really should win this, but yeah, Irving can be a scary matchup.

    One day I think we will all see the giant light bulb over Woody’s head when he realizes that Melo at the 4 is the way to go even when his big men are all healthy.

  10. Melo gets the points, Tyson gets the rebounds, Pablo makes the assists. Nice, simple and effective.

  11. DeRozan over Lowry. That’s the NBA for you in a nutshell. That right there is it. DeRozan over Lowry. Explains everything about the NBA.

  12. Melo gets the points, Tyson gets the rebounds, Pablo makes the assists. Nice, simple and effective.

    Pretty much.

  13. Funny tweet by Isola:

    J Van Gundy once said the only guys that could guard MJ were Starks & Vernon Maxwell cause they were crazy enough to think they were equals

  14. we have discussed this before but TH2’s bench celebrations are getting more and more amazing. it seems like he has a dance partner in Tyler now as well

  15. Good stat tweeted by Chris Herring:

    Knicks have outscored opponents by 17 pts per 100 plays this yr w/ Melo at PF & Tyson Chandler at C.

  16. Its pretty obvious how much healthier JR and Chandler are right now than earlier in the season. Doesnt make this any less annoying though, so stupid they are 18-27 right now.

  17. Im not a huge JR fan by any stretch, but this is another example why you dont trade guys when their value is at an all time low. 2 weeks ago we wanted to trade him for any bad contract out there. now, he is looking like an important part of our team again

  18. if woodson would just come out and apologize for being a dumbass and state that he has learned that the 2 pgs and melo at the 4 are the key, i would get off his ass. he wont though, and I have no idea what is banging around in his big hollow head. i fear what is going to happen when stat, kmart, and bargs are back

  19. The demolishing of Philly and Boston were great, but Cleveland is a lot better than those teams so this is much more impressive. What a great game! Oh, Woody, please tell me you’ve learned your lesson!

    6th seed, 6th seed, 6th seed!!

  20. I know Cleveland sucks, but the Knicks look so much more active on defense. Big change from when they gave up 110 points to Philly.

  21. No Varejao.

    This Cavs team looks horrific….

    Speaking of which, Anthony Bennett reminds of Eddy Curry….

  22. Brian. i hope that we have turned the corner and woodson is wiser, but lets be real. the cavs blow

  23. i think melo looks pretty good against these pf’s, despite the fact that “they are big”. woody??

  24. Brian. i hope that we have turned the corner and woodson is wiser, but lets be real. the cavs blow

    Yeah, you’re actually probably right. I was probably giving them too much credit. This is probably just as good as the other recent demolitions. Still awesome!

  25. It’s funny because as great as this is, I’m still nervously waiting/expecting for Kyrie to erupt for 45 en route to a tight game down the stretch.

  26. lavor, i honestly dont think Kyrie is the player that we assume him to be. if he really was, the cavs wouldnt suck this bad.

  27. when we do go big (with melo out) i love the twin towers of tyler and country cole. if nothing else than for the wonder of the unknown

  28. What a lightning quick spin move on the baseline by Tyler. Not quite Worthy, but still pretty impressive.

  29. melo should play 36-38 minutes a night. for the other 10-12 minutes, i feel that we should play a defensive team, since we dont really have much hope of outscoring teams without melo in anyways. towards that end, when melo is out, we should go BIG, with 2 of our centers in at all time. that is what woodson is doing tonight (probably be accident) but I think it would work

  30. holy shit. if you told me that tyler would be an all star in 2 years, i wouldnt laugh at you. its not likely, but why not?? hes big. hes athletic. he has post moves. and he can shoot from 15-18. why was this guy unsigned throughout the offseason??

  31. I guess no one can say Bargs doesn’t make his teammates better. They become better without him on the floor.

  32. Demar Derozan was picked by the coaches as a reserve.

    Yeah, they definitely have advanced metrics. Definitely not looking at points per game.

  33. owen, he probably is right now. that being said, at least if we had bennett, woodson would not feel compelled to play him. he would just yell at him and call him Rook

  34. owen, he probably is right now. that being said, at least if we had bennett, woodson would not feel compelled to play him. he would just yell at him and call him Rook”


    Can’t believe Henry Sims is getting burn for the Cavs. That is the definition of replacement level right there…..

  35. Aside from the overzelaous fouling, Bennett has been one of the better Cavaliers tonight. . .

    Remember when we used to lose to teams this bad?

  36. Morey get a lot of credit but no one hardly ever mentions that Dragic and Lowry could still be there. Dragic more so but I think Lowry would have been a better fit with Harden.

  37. henry sims was practically replacement level at Georgetown. he was a highly recruited guy but showed 0 athleticism in college

  38. Morey get a lot of credit but no one hardly ever mentions that Dragic and Lowry could still be there. Dragic more so but I think Lowry would have been a better fit with Harden.

    They used the pick they got for Lowry to get Harden.

  39. Tough to see Dragic coming. Lowry either. Both have had amazing breakouts this year. Interesting to see whether they sustain them.

  40. im as big of a dragic fan as there is but, top 5?

    paul, rondo, rose, westbrook, curry, lilliard, parker, conley (Id say that they are about even)

    i’ll give him the edge over deron, wall, holiday, teague, bledsoe, irving,

    maybe, with injuries taken into account, he is top 5 (assuming im not forgetting anyone)

  41. i always though dragic showed promise his first time in phoenix (backing up Nash). he has always been surprisingly athletic and is the typical lefty that is crafty around the hoop

  42. @ 63. They sure did. My bad. What was the deal on Dragic?

    Dragic actually wouldn’t re-sign with Houston. I don’t know why. It was weird. They figured it was a foregone conclusion that he’d come back but then he seemed disinterested. I think he just wanted to return to Phoenix. Players really do seem to like playing in Phoenix. Remember, Houston at the time was no sure bet to be a good team and if they and Phoenix were both going to be basically the same, he might have just preferred Phoenix.

  43. If this keeps up, Melo will not lead the league in minutes per game.

    you underrate woodson’s stupidity my friend

  44. our offense has really gone into the shitter this quarter. time for the twin towers!!!!!

  45. Please don’t blow this game. Please don’t blow this game. Please don’t blow this game. Please don’t blow this game. Please don’t blow this game. Please don’t blow this game. Please don’t blow this game. Please don’t blow this game. Please don’t blow this game. Please don’t blow this game. Please don’t blow this game.

  46. woodson is really going to have no choice but to play small next year, barring injuries. TH2 has to get 30 minutes a game next year. and you got shump and JR still

  47. pablo, JR, TH2, metta, Jeremey. in 2 minutes, bring in cole and toure. no more tyson. no more melo please

  48. Yeah Toure needs to work on his handle and his jumper. He gets those in order and he could be a solid rotation player in the league with his defensive potential.

  49. I wonder if Bennett would be available for a future 2nd? He needs to put a lot of work over the summer on his body.

  50. We shoulda went and got him during the summer of 2012 when we let Lin walk away for nothing

  51. I realize Bennett has shown himself to be completely unworthy of the No. 1 pick, but that organization is a complete shit show and the fact they even picked him with that selection proves it. I’m not sure if there’s an organization that is worse in terms of developing talent and allowing their young players to progress in their careers. Irving, Thompson and Waiters have all, more or less, remained the same players they were upon arriving in their rookie seasons. I also feel bad for the kid because Cleveland was dumb enough to take him and thrust the pressure of being the No. 1 pick on him, something he has demonstrated he is not and was not ready for.

  52. Well, I can’t believe how bad Oladipo has been and that’s who I would have taken.

    It wasn’t the best draft to have the first pick in but anyway you look at it Bennett was not the pick. No doubt, they aren’t running things well in Cleveland….

    Who has been the best rookie? Really have no idea. Giannis? MCW?

  53. There’s a reason LeBron left, and it’s the same reason he didn’t bring his talents to New York. Most of the teams in this league are actually pretty bad; run by people that are not very good at their jobs. There is certainly some luck to be had in any professional sports league, but when you look at the consistently good teams trends do emerge and the Spurs takeover of much of the league’s front offices and coaching staffs (staves?) is no accident.

    Also, I think Cleveland likes to take big risks in their draft picks. Even Irving was a huge risk, having only played a few games in college before injury sidelined him most of the season. For a team that has had as much luck in draft positions as they have, they really aught to be embarrassed. The Knicks may be a poorly managed team owned by a guy that truly has no business being as wealthy as he is, but Cleveland is proof positive that there are in fact worse organizations out there. So there’s that to hang our collective hats on, I suppose. We may suck, but at least we don’t suck the most! How’s that for a battle cry?

  54. Melo: “The small lineup, I really like [it]. I don’t have any problem w/ it.”

    Melo for player-coach!!

  55. Who volunteers to Tonya Harding Bargnani if his elbow starts to heal?

    I believe the word you’re looking for is “Gillooly.”

    As in, “I will personally Gillooly that stiff Andrea Bargnani if he tries to suit up for the Knicks again.”

  56. I just hope that when Bargs does come back, Woodson isn’t in any rush to re-insert him into the starting lineup or to give him major minutes. It’s really all going to come down to how successful we are (so far, so good but the schedule gets tougher), and whether or not Woodson believes that success to be a fluke or not. Remember, this is the guy who thought the kind of success was a fluke for an entire season, so a few weeks of winning might not necessarily hammer it into his thick skull either.

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