2023 NBA Playoffs: Cavaliers vs. Knicks preview

Published April 14, 2023, 8:00 AMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

The fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers take on the fifth-seeded New York Knicks in the first round.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have beaten a lot of teams en route to finishing as the fourth seed in the East. One team that has given them fits this season, though, has been the New York Knicks.

The vastly-improved Knicks won their season series against the Cavaliers 3-1, with two of those games as easy double-digit wins. The Knicks also proved that they can win on the road, capping off the season series with a win in Cleveland.

That’s why even though the Cleveland Cavaliers are the higher seed, this series is still practically a toss-up between both teams.

Most compelling storyline

As the season progressed, it seemed as if Evan Mobley started putting things together. He started off slow, only putting up 14 to 15 points per game while grabbing less than 10 boards. Then he found his groove. In February, he had averages of 19 points and nearly nine rebounds per game. In March, he was putting up an 18-9 line on 58 percent shooting. Mobley has evolved into one of the main weapons for the Cavs this season.

That’s why the 13 points and seven rebounds per game he’s averaging against the Knicks this season isn’t enough. In all four games against New York, he’s failed to break the 16-point barrier and has only grabbed double-digit rebounds once. He’s been thoroughly outplayed by Julius Randle in their three meetings this season and couldn’t even capitalize on the one game Randle missed.

This is the true test of Mobley’s growth as a player. He’s shown that he can be a consistent contributor in the regular season. But this is the first playoff appearance of his career. Will Mobley shrink under the brighter lights of the postseason (and Madison Square Garden)? Or will he play like a grown man and stand up to Randle and the rest of the New York bigs?


The Cavaliers’ starters are better than the Knicks’ starters man-for-man. When it comes to the bench, though, it’s a different story. The Knicks have a clear advantage there. The Cavaliers are 20th in the league in average bench points this season. The Knicks rank second, averaging 29.5 points off the bench.

Most of those points come from Immanuel Quickley, who’s averaging nearly 15 points per game despite only getting 21 starts in 81 games. Josh Hart, a late-season acquisition who also brings an additional punch for New York, puts up more than 10 points per game off the bench.

This may seem like a novel idea but the Cavaliers will need to stagger their defensive players given the firepower that the Knicks have off the bench. If Cleveland focuses all the defensive energy on the starters, Quickley or Hart can run wild in their second unit.

Winning blueprint

The Knicks have the third-best offense in the league, scoring 117.8 points per possession. That’s a number that the Cavaliers are familiar with since New York dropped 130 points on them in their final matchup of this season. 

The Knicks have shown that they can score on the vaunted Cleveland. Jalen Brunson scored 48 points in their last meeting, while Julius Randle was able to drop 36 in a previous game this year. New York just has to get their guys going, distribute the points, and hope for the occasional explosion from Brunson or Randle to win.

As for Cleveland, they have to win this series on the defensive end. Remind everyone, especially the Knicks, why they’re the best defensive team in the NBA this season (1st in ORtg). 

Shutting down either Brunson or Randle should be the top priority. But equally as important is making sure that they make life unpleasant for the rest of the Knicks. It won’t be pretty but at least they’ll advance.