LAST TIME OUT
The Anthony Davis show was on full display at Quicken Loans, as the rising star went for 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting to go with seven rebounds and eight blocks in the Pelicans 100-89 drubbing that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. Eric Gordon nearly had a triple-double, putting up 20 points, nine assists and seven boards. Kyrie Irving led Cleveland with 23 points while Dion Waiters added an efficient 21 points. However, the major storyline for the Cavaliers was the play of heavily maligned top draft pick Anthony Bennett, who played 31 minutes, scoring a career-high 15 points, while corralling eight boards and even swatted Davis on the block. Bennett had some pep in his step and played well, showing off his jumper while scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter. Anderson Varejao sat out the game while nursing a knee injury, forcing the Cavs to insert Tyler Zeller into the starting lineup and the Pelicans front court took advantage.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: New York Knickerbockers
Record: 18-27 overall, 10-15 at home
Tipoff: 8:00 p.m. ET –Madison Square Garden
Where you can watch: TNT
Where you can listen: WTAM 1100
Previous Matchup: Cavs 109, Knicks 94 on Dec. 10, 2013
Opponent’s Blog: Buckets Over Broadway
Knicks: Amar’e Stoudemire OUT (ankle), Andrea Bargnani OUT (elbow), Kenyon Martin QUESTIONABLE (ankle), Iman Shumpert QUESTIONABLE (shoulder)
Cavaliers: Anderson Varejao QUESTIONABLE (knee)
Slowing Carmelo Anthony
Anthony has been on fire during the Knicks’ three-game win streak, which includes the legendary, franchise and MSG record-breaking 62-point performance against Charlotte last Friday. A healthy Luol Deng (he’s battling an Achilles flair up) is a competent defender who possesses the length and foot speed to stay in front of ‘Melo, however, the Knicks will have Anthony playing the four tonight without Bargnani. Mike Brown must decide how to matchup defensively. Tristan Thompson isn’t nearly quick enough or good enough to stay in front of Anthony, but if Brown chooses to slide Deng onto Anthony, where will Thompson hide? TT might be able to guard Shumpert, who mostly just spots up for three, but if the Knicks start Tim Hardaway Jr. that may be an even worse mismatch. These are the difficult decisions Brown has been mulling over the past few days while he sips his morning coffee and scans The New York Times.
Guarding the Three
New York is seventh in the league with 24 three-point attempts per game, converting at a 36.4 percent clip, 13th best. The Knicks have made 15, 14, 11 and 10 threes over their past four games. ‘Melo leads the team hitting 42 percent of his treys, while J.R. Smith is extremely dangerous from the outside and is finally rounding into form. He’s averaging 16.7 points on 17-of-35 shooting from deep over his last six games. Rookie sniper Hardaway Jr. is a 40.9 percent long-range shooter and has played well overall, earning more playing time over this recent win streak. He may get the nod if Shumpert can’t go because he provides spacing and will make the Cavs wary of doubling ‘Melo in the post. The backcourt duo of Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton are both capable shooters from beyond-the-arc. Cleveland must hope Deng can keep ‘Melo from exploding so the rest of the defense can stay at home on the plethora of shooters.
Stop the Bleeding
Cleveland has lost four of five and is fading fast in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They are sitting in 11th place, three games behind Charlotte for the eighth seed with Detroit and the Knicks each two games in front of them. The Cavaliers are a losing streak away from falling into the top half of the lottery, which might satisfy those who realize the Cavaliers aren’t any good and could use another top draft pick in an ostensibly talented draft class. The Cavs must climb back on track before they swing to Texas to face Houston and Dallas, two Western Conference playoff teams. The Knicks have been just as poor as the Cavaliers and will be missing at least two contributors in Bargnani and the corpse of Stoudemire so this is the game to steal. If the Cavs lose this one, they could potentially be looking at a five-game losing streak, though remarkably would only be a short winning streak away from contending again for that final spot in the historically dreadful East.
The Cavaliers are too up-and-down for me to trust them to go into MSG and win right now, especially with New York playing better as of late. I think ‘Melo continues his impressive play especially with Deng not fully healthy. The combination of outside shooting from Smith and Hardaway Jr. should help ease the loss of Stoudemire and Bargnani (both marginal players anyway) and give the Knicks enough scoring. Cleveland is rarely on national television and teams usually try to show out at MSG, so we’ll see if the squad comes out with any extra motivation. I’m sticking with the wounded Knickerbockers in this one.