Saturday, March 8, 2014
W2W4: Knicks at Cavs
By Ian Begley
Here are a few things to keep an eye on during Saturday's Knicks-Cavs game:
Starting block: The Knicks' playoff hopes are hanging by a thread, thanks to a two-game winning streak. They've won the last two largely on the strength of their new starting lineup. Mike Woodson has gone with J.R. Smith and Amar'e Stoudemire in the starting five over the last three games, and the results have been impressive.
The new starting five has outscored its opponents by 21 points in 46 minutes. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the new starting five's success is the dynamic between Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
For most of Chandler's tenure in New York, he and Stoudemire had struggled to play well while on the floor together.
But in the last three games, the Knicks are outscoring teams by 18 when Chandler and Stoudemire are on the floor. Stoudemire, it seems, has found a comfort zone with the midrange jump shot, which allows Chandler to operate as the screener in the pick-and-roll.
Playoff push: This is a crucial game for the Knicks' playoff hopes. They enter play 4 ½ games back of Cleveland for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
They are one game back of the Cavs and in the midst of an incredibly soft section of schedule. Their March 19 game against Indiana aside, eight of the Knicks' next nine opponents are a combined 137 games under .500.
You can make an argument that this away game against Cleveland, which is 15-16 at home, is the Knicks' biggest test. The Knicks are 1-1 against the Cavs this season.
Containing Kyrie: If recent history is right, one key to beating Cleveland is to contain Kyrie Irving.
The Cavs are 20-20 when he shoots at least 40.0 percent from the field, compared with a 3-17 record when he fails to hit that mark, according to STATS LLC.
Irving is averaging 28.3 points over his last seven games against the Knicks, though New York has won five of those matchups.