NEW YORK– The Cavaliers (49-31) take on the tanking New York Knicks (28-52) on Monday night at Madison Square Garden in the first game of a home-and-home series that will close out their regular season.
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: NBA TV, Fox Sports Ohio
Online: FoxSports Go
Radio: WTAM 1100 AM, WMMS 100.7 FM, La Mega 87.7 FM
Cavs injuries: Rodney Hood (Achilles soreness– PROBABLE), George Hill (ankle sprain– QUESTIONABLE), Jose Calderon (hamstring soreness– QUESTIONABLE )
Knicks injuries: Lance Thomas (illness– QUESTIONABLE), Michael Beasley (contused left ankle– QUESTIONABLE), Tim Hardaway Jr. (sprained left ankle– DOUBTFUL), Enes Kanter (sore lower back and right wrist– DOUBTFUL), Ron Baker (right shoulder surgery– OUT), Emmanuel Mudiay (concussion– OUT), Joakim Noah (not with team– PERSONAL REASONS), Kristaps Porzingis (ACL– OUT), Troy Williams (fractured jaw– OUT)
1. The No. 3 seed
Considering the Knicks are depleted and obviously tanking, the most interesting storyline for the Cavs over the next two games is the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. They are currently at No. 4 behind the Philadelphia 76ers, and while they don’t control their own destiny anymore, they can still bounce up to No. 3.
First and foremost, they will need to win both of these games against the Knicks, and they need Philadelphia to lose either tomorrow against the Atlanta Hawks or Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks. Since the Cavs-Sixers season series was split, 2-2, the tie breaker would go to the Cavs who, with a win, will clinch the Central Division tonight, whereas the Sixers will end the year at third place in the Atlantic.
Everyone from Tyronn Lue to LeBron James has repeatedly said they don’t care what seed Cleveland is as long as they get to the playoffs healthy. But based on the eye test alone, it’s pretty clear the No. 3 seed would have an easier path to the finals. If they end up being No. 4, the Cavs would have to take on the Pacers in the first round. The Cavs lost three of their four games this year to Indiana, and have struggled playing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They would also then have to play the Raptors in the semifinals. If they are the No. 3 seed however, they would face Miami in the first round and then what is likely a depleted Boston team in the second.
Basically, things are not yet decided, but the Cavs will at least need to put an effort towards controlling what they can.
2. Will George Hill play?
The Cavs starting point guard hasn’t played since March 30 when he sprained his ankle against the New Orleans Pelicans. When Jose Calderon also went down, that left the Cavs without a true point guard on the roster. Yes, James can handle the ball, but that’s not an ideal situation. Getting Hill on the court before the playoffs start will be big in the team finding their chemistry. Remember, this current group still has yet to play a game together because of injuries.
3. Don’t make anyone a hero
As you read above, the Knicks have a pretty lengthy injury report. If all of the above sit, that means Michael Beasley is the Knicks’ leading scorer at 13.1 points per game. But over the last four years, the Cavs have at times struggled against teams that are tanking or injured. The Knicks happen to be both.
In order to win, the Cavs just have to play with a semblance of a sense of urgency to avoid making anyone a hero on the Knicks.