Four points I’m thinking about the Cleveland Cavaliers…
1.) The Cavs and J.R. Smith may have dodged a bullet on this one.
After a scary moment that saw Smith’s knee buckle as he landed after a routine shot attempt against the Raptors on Monday, the severity of the injury was still unclear. An X-ray taken in Toronto came back negative, but Smith was reported to still be limping after the game and understandably concerned about the knee that had been hurting him for several weeks.
Smith returned to Cleveland for an MRI on the knee and, last night, he and the Cavs got some good news.
JR Smith’s MRI showed no damage and he’s expected to be day-to-day sources tell ESPN
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) December 6, 2016
So, all of the hand-wringing about who will replace Smith in the lineup can continue, but we can all take heart in knowing that we should be doing this wringing on a mercifully limited basis.
This morning, cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon is reporting that head coach Tyronn Lue has named DeAndre Liggins the starting shooting guard for tonight’s game against the Knicks in New York City. Liggins scored five points against the Raptors, including a big three pointer near the end of the game. The former D-League Defensive Player of the Year should help the Cavs shore up their defensive issues. He is far less of a threat to score than Smith, though, so it will be worth watching whether the floor remains spaced well enough, or if LeBron James and Kryie Irving will find fewer open spaces to attack off the dribble.
2.) The Cavs find tonight’s opponent riding high. The Knicks have won a season-best four games in a row and are the proud owners of the fifth best record in the Eastern Conference at 12-9. This will be the second meeting between the two clubs, after the Cavs blew the doors off the Knicks 117-88 on Ring Night at The Q. At that point, it looked like the Knicks were tipping off yet another atrocious season, but the Knicks leveled out and are playing… well, respectably average basketball.
On the season, the Knicks rank 15th in the league in scoring, while their defense ranks 22nd. Their lone top-10 ranking is in rebounding, where they rank sixth best in the league. Even their winning streak is middling. Two of those wins came on a home-and-home against the six win Minnesota Timberwolves, the third came when they hosted the Sacramento Kings, and last night they beat the Miami Heat. Each of those teams ranks among the league’s worst.
Still, Jeff Hornacek‘s club comes into Wednesday’s nationally televised game winners of nine of their last 12. They have two 20 point-per-game scorers in Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis and another, point guard Derrick Rose, who is averaging 22 points and 5.5 assists over his last two games. So, the Cavs, who are still far from perfect on defense, despite playing better on that end of the floor against the Raptors, will need to continue tightening the screws on that end if they want to prevent a let-down at the Garden.
3.) Watching Lue work with his bench has been like watching a man try to squeeze blood from a stone. Outside of Channing Frye and Shumpert, the production just hasn’t been there. Tonight’s game against the Knicks could serve as a way to help jumpstart that second unit, particularly Mike Dunleavy Jr., who will be playing his second game back from undergoing the league’s concussion protocol.
As underwhelming at the Cavs bench has been, the Knicks’ bench hasn’t been much better. According to hoopstat.com, the Cavs’ reserves rank 28th in the league in points scored at 27.9 PPG, while the Knicks rank 24th at 30.1 PPG. With shooting guard Courtney Lee likely back in the starting lineup following an ankle injury, that means the Cavs will be looking at a second unit that relies heavily on guards Justin Holiday and Brandon Jennings and big men Lance Thomas and Kyle O’Quinn. Not the most intimidating line-up — and not one that’s known for its defense. So, a vet like Dunleavy, who could really benefit from a strong performance in the Garden, might see this matchup as an opportunity to get himself going.
The first game these two teams played this year was one of Dunleavy’s better ones. He finished with just four points, but a season-best +19.
4.) The key for the Knicks’ reserves has been Jennings. He followed up a 12-point outing against the T-Wolves with a two point game, then rebounded to score 19 against the Kings, so he runs hot and cold. Look for Shumpert to spend a lot of time keeping track of Jennings. But it could also be an opportunity for Ty Lue to throw Kay Felder out there and see if his speed can disrupt the most explosive of the Knicks reserves.