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The Cleveland Cavaliers (9-7), who are in second-place in the Central Division of the NBA Eastern Conference, visit the New York Knickerbockers (4-15) tonight. The Cavs have won four straight while the Knicks, who are fourth in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference and 11 games out of first, have lost five in a row. The Cavaliers are 7.5-point favorites.
Keys for Cleveland
Cleveland comes to Madison Square Garden off a home stand where they won 4 of 5. This is the start of a series of games of which 4 of 5 are on the road. The return of LeBron James (24.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 7.4 APG) to the Cavs after playing with the Heat has put new life into the franchise. James, as he always is, will be a major factor in this contest. Along with being the leading scorer on the team, James is an able defender and creator of turnovers.
Joining James in the frontcourt is center Anderson Varejao (10.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG). Varejao hits 60% of his shots from the field, and is the team’s most consistent shooter. The backcourt includes Cleveland’s most able free throw shooter and 3-point man, point guard Kyrie Irving (21.5 PPG, 82% FT%, .420 3PT%). Along with power forward Kevin Love (17.9 PPG, 9.5 RPG), these players form the potent offensive thrust for the Cavs.
If this quartet, along with shooting guards Dion Walters and Joe Harris, can get the job done, especially in the frontcourt, then expect Cleveland to dominate the paint, grabbing offensive rebounds, and creating ample opportunities for second shots.
Keys for New York
The New York Knicks offer one of the better defenses in the league. They are 11th in points allowed, as teams are averaging 99.1 PPG against them. However, they have a very tough time on the offensive end, averaging 93.4 PPG (27th). They will need to do better than that if they are going to have a chance of winning tonight.
Knick small forward Carmelo Anthony (23.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.3 APG) is the team’s leading point scorer. Anthony can hit from just about anywhere, making him a solid threat. Power forward Amar’e Stoudemire (10.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG), who is second in scoring and first in field goal percentage (.556), brings good rebounding chops, while point guard Jose Calderon (10.7 PPG, 4.3 APG) is tops from the three-point arc, hitting almost 58%. Iman Shumpert (10.8 PPG) can knock it down from deep or drive inside to score.
The Knicks have less chemistry than the Cavs, and their lack of ball movement hurts them. Anthony is a great player, but he’s more likely to shoot than dish it off, and often that means that he’s taking low percentage shots. That hurts the Knicks in many different ways, as everyone else on the court becomes a secondary player.
The big matchup is between James and Anthony. James gets the edge due to the fact that he makes everyone around him better. He’s able to not only score, but to set up opportunities for his teammates to put points on the board.
The Cavs surpass the Knicks on offense, averaging close to 104 PPG, and they are almost even with them on points allowed, as opponents are averaging just 99.9 PPG. To win this one the New York defense will have to play stellar for the entire game. Chances are, however, that Cleveland, with its premiere plays and solid bench, will wear the Knickerbockers down. Look for a fairly easy win tonight by the Cavaliers.