W2W4: New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers; March 8th, 2014

Posted by Kenneth Teape on Saturday, March 08, 2014 with No comments
By Kenneth Teape (@teapester725)

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Pre-Game News and Notes

The Knicks will look to continue their winning streak in what is their biggest game of the season to date against the Cavaliers tonight. The Knicks, who enter the game 4.5 games behind eighth place in the Eastern Conference, have the Cavaliers right ahead of them in the standings. A victory over them tonight would pull the teams within a tie and that much closer to a playoff spot. The Cavaliers will be sure to get up for the game as longtime center Žydrūnas Ilgauskas will have his number retired prior to the game. Here are some things to look for in the game tonight.

Match-up of the game: Raymond Felton vs. Kyrie Irving

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Felton has turned things around the last two games for the Knicks and not coincidentally both games have resulted in Knicks victories. Felton has done well getting into the paint and breaking down the defense, opening up easy scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. When Felton is causing havoc in the paint it opens up rolling opportunities for Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire to the rim for alley-oops and open jump shots for Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith.

A key to slowing down the Cavaliers is containing Irving, which is easier said than done. When Irving shoots at least 40 percent from the field, the Cavaliers are 20-20 on the season; when he is below that they are 3-17 according to STATS LLC. The Knicks have struggled all season containing point guards, but have done a good job in the last two games against Ricky Rubio and Trey Burke. If they are able to contain Irving tonight in any capacity it would go a long way in picking up their third consecutive victory.

-Starting Lineup Clicking

Mike Woodson made yet another change to the starting lineup this week, inserting Stoudemire and Smith to go along with Felton, Anthony and Chandler. Since the change the Knicks have played much better basketball, getting out to strong starts and outscoring opponents 105-66 in the first quarters. The last two first quarters the Knicks have tied and set the highest scoring quarters for the season.

The change to the lineup has gotten the Knicks best players on the court to start the game and the results have been positive. The Knicks aren’t falling behind early, instead taking the control early on and forcing their opponents to climb out of deep holes. The cohesion in the starting lineup is something the Knicks have lacked all season but look to have gotten in the last week.

-Bench Play

With the changes the Knicks have made to the starting unit the bench has suffered. Tim Hardaway Jr. has become the biggest threat off the bench, a large drop-off from Smith and Stoudemire. It is hard to ask Hardaway Jr. to pick up the slack of both those players. One player who could help a lot if Iman Shumpert. He needs to pick things up and help carry the bench scoring load with Hardaway Jr. looking to slow down at times recently.

On the contrary, the Cavaliers have a strong option off the bench in Dion Waiters. Waiters is an explosive scorer and is capable of running the offense as well when needed. Anderson Varejao is also expected to return tonight. It will be in a limited basis, but his return to the court will give the Cavaliers a shot in the arm as he brings a lot of energy and intangibles fans of the Cavaliers have enjoyed watching over the past couple of seasons when he is healthy.

-Keep Momentum Going

The Knicks are in the middle of the softest part of the schedule. Eight of the next nine games the Knicks play are against teams with a combined record of 137 games below .500. If they are to climb into the playoff race and keep their slim hopes alive there is no better time than now to do so. The Knicks have shown under Woodson when things starting clicking they are capable of getting into a groove. If they are to sneak into the playoffs, no matter how undeserving or poor they have played this season, it has to start tonight. On the road in Cleveland is most likely the toughest task the Knicks will have in the next nine games outside a meeting with the Indiana Pacers.