The Cleveland Cavaliers started the post-All-Star break portion of the NBA regular season as well as they possibly could. The New York Knicks started the stretch run of the season as poorly as they possibly could. Do these events mean anything the NBA odds for Sunday’s game in Madison Square Garden? We’ll find out soon.
The Cleveland Cavaliers Can Win Because…
Their performance on Friday against the Washington Wizards was as close to perfect as anything we’ve seen in the NBA this season, and they're currently listed as double digit favorites on the NBA betting odds. Washington is not playing well, but the Wizards are still a good team, one that’s likely to get a top-five seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Cavaliers treated them as though they weren’t there. Cleveland pounded a good team going through a bad period – that’s what championship contenders do.
First, the Cavaliers shot well. They hit 51 percent of their field goals against Washington, over 42 percent from three-point range. They hit 75 percent of their foul shots and got to the line 28 times. They committed only 10 turnovers. LeBron James scored a very efficient 28 points on just 21 shots. Kyrie Irvin scored 25 points on 18 shots. Members of the supporting cast played well, too. J.R. Smith hit 6 of 12 field goals. Iman Shumpert was 4 of 8, and Matthew Dellavedova was 3 of 6. The Cavs were balanced and very hard for Washington (which has a statistically good defense) to defend.
On defense, the Cavs limited the Wizards to 1 of 16 shooting from three-point range. They allowed only 16 free throw attempts, fouling a total of just 17 times for the whole game – that’s very disciplined defense. Cleveland’s number of steals (12) exceeded the team’s number of turnovers (10). There just wasn’t a weakness in what Cleveland did on Friday night.
Add to this the fact that New York got blown out at home on a night when the Miami Heat did not have either Chris Bosh or Goran Dragic in their lineup. The Knicks, without Carmelo Anthony, are very likely to continue to struggle. There is no frontcourt scorer for this team, with the possible exception of Andrea Bargnani (11 points against Miami).
The New York Knicks Can Win Because…
The first few days after a week-long break can cause unusual results. Consider the Toronto Raptors’ 105-80 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta on Friday, or Detroit’s win over Chicago, or Utah’s 16-point romp over Portland as the kinds of results that seem like aberrations. New York losing by 24 to Miami, when the Heat were without Bosh and the just-signed Dragic, also feels like one of those nights when nothing went right. That’s not going to be an indicator of what will continue to happen. Oh, the Knicks aren’t going to win a ton of games, but they’re not going to play that poorly. They should be much better in this game, and Cleveland is probably going to play much worse than it did versus Washington. Teams in the NBA generally don’t play two straight perfect road games, or anything resembling as much, and Cleveland was close to perfect against the Wizards.
Want a more specific reason why New York can win here? The fact that J.R. Smith is returning to New York means that the mercurial guard could take a lot of bad shots – he’s known for doing that. Smith could sabotage the Cavs’ offense for one game, and the Knicks could benefit against their former teammate. Another reason the Knicks could win is the bench play of Tim Hardaway, Jr. He scored 17 points off the bench and gives the Knicks the chance to spread the floor with a small-ball lineup which includes Langston Galloway and Jose Calderon, who both started on Friday against Miami. Calderon likes to pass the ball, and if he’s on the floor with Hardaway, New York could develop a drive-and-kick game which will make it hard for Cleveland to chase New York’s shooters around the floor. The Knicks could win a high-scoring game.
The Knicks might make this a fun game for two and a half quarters, but the Cavs are much stronger in the paint and should be able to outmuscle the Knicks near the basket. Unless New York shoots at a very high percentage, it won’t be able to get enough rebounds to win the game. New York has to make enough shots that rebounds don’t become a factor. Don’t expect the Knicks to shoot well enough to win. Take the Cavs with your NBA picks in this one as they should run away with it.
NBA Pick: Cavaliers -15 at The Greek