(New York Left to Right) RJ Barrett, Jalen Brunson, and Julius Randale. (Cleveland Left to Right) Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley and Jarret Allen
Game 1: @ Cleveland 6:00 PM ESPN
Games 2-7 TBD at this time.
Keys for the Cavs:
JB Bickerstaff was able to rest some of the ailing Cavaliers for the final two games of the regular season after the Cavs secured the 4th seed and home-court advantage for the opening round. While players like Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland didn't appear to need time off, any chance to rest nagging injuries before the gauntlet that is the playoffs is a nice bonus. Speaking of Mitchell, he is entering the postseason playing at a historic clip. In his last 4 games played, Donovan has eclipsed the 40-point plateau in each contest. Being the Cavaliers' most playoff-experienced starter, the Cavaliers are going to need that level of performance to continue as they square off with the Knickerbockers of New York.
Leading into the waning games of the regular season, only one Cavalier played in each contest, Small Forward Isaac Okoro. However, in a game against the Houston Rockets one week before the end of the regular season, Okoro left the game with what was described as "left knee soreness". The injury (and lack of necessity in winning the final two games) kept the 3rd year small forward sidelined. With 6 days between the finale and the playoff opener on Saturday, updates on his status have been limited, with the only notable quote coming from JB Bickerstaff stating that getting the perimeter defender back in time for the start of their series with the Knicks being "a big boost" for the team. Should Okoro not be cleared in time for the start of the series, Bickerstaff and the Cavs will rely heavily on Caris LeVert.
Phone a Friend:
In preparing for his first go-round as a Head Coach in the NBA Playoffs, JB Bickerstaff has reached out to his neighbor to pick his brain. No, not calling his neighbor to ask for a cup of sugar or to pick up the mail while he takes a long weekend out of town, but rather asking for any inkling of advice a World Series Champion and future Hall of Fame Manager can provide in how to prepare for a grueling playoff series. No harm in trying to gain any advantage you can before facing off in a Best-Of-7 series for the first time, and Francona has been to the mountaintop in baseball and is renowned for how he runs his clubhouse.
What to Know about the Knicks:
The 5th Seeded Knicks ended the regular season with a 47-35 record. They are led by off-season acquisition point guard Jalen Brunson, who previously played with the Dallas Mavericks. It will be interesting to see how the Cavs approach defending the talented point man. In their game on March 31, Brunson dropped a career-high 48 on the Cavs. While Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell are leaders on the offensive end, which of the two will take the bull by the horns to keep him from exploding for a similar outing in this series? Key post player Julius Randle has the ability to step out beyond the arc and knock down shots, putting a lot on the shoulders of 2nd-year big man Evan Mobley. Rounding out the Knicks key contributors is wing RJ Barrett. This is where having Okoro back will pay dividends in keeping Barrett at bay on the Knicks offensive end.
In the 4 match-ups between the squads in the regular season, the Knicks came out victorious in 3 of those bouts, but the nature of the beast in the playoffs can throw all prior outcomes out the window.