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After completing a six-game, 11-day road trip in which they finished 2-4, the Wine & Gold return home for three – beginning with an MLK matinee against the New York Knicks at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
The Cavaliers have dropped their last four games of the roadie – including the finale in excruciating fashion.
Cleveland went off for 12 triples and 73 first-half points on Saturday, leading by as many as 19 in the second half and by 15 after three quarters. But the Cavs committed six of their 10 fourth-quarter turnovers in the first four minutes of the final period, were outscored by 21 and – despite all that – still had a chance to win at the end. But Kevin Love’s short hook-shot was off the mark, sending John Beilein’s squad to its eighth loss in their last 10 outings.
The Knicks are struggling just as badly, also having dropped three straight and come into the contest with an 11-32 mark, one game worse than the Wine & Gold. They also dropped a heartbreaker on Saturday night, grabbing a late lead in a bid to upset the Sixers on Marcus Morris’ jumper, only to see Tobias Harris drill a triple on the other end to seal the deal. Unlike the Cavs, New York didn’t get off a shot attempt in the end.
The Cavaliers – who play nine of their next 11 at home – have dominated the Knicks lately, having won 16 of their last 19, including a 21-point blowout back in early December at the Garden.
The Knicks might not have had the free agent summer bonanza that they were hoping for, but they still got one of the feistiest young big men on the market in Julius Randle.
The lefty forward from Kentucky has been one of New York’s most consistent offensive threats and comes into the contest as the squad’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder. And he comes into the matchup on a nice four-game roll.
He struggled shooting the ball in New York’s recent loss to the Sixers, but he did manage to double-up, finishing with 14 points, a game-high 12 boards and five assists. Before that outing, he tallied at least 25 points in three straight outings, including a 25-point, 15-rebound performance in a blowout loss to the Bucks.
Randle poured in a game-high 30 points against Cleveland in the first meeting between these two teams.
The Cavs are coming off an extended trip and there’s no way to tell who, if anyone, Coach Beilein will rest, but if Tristan Thompson’s able to go, odds are he’ll lock up with Randle on much of Monday afternoon.
Thompson struggled in the previous meeting against New York, finishing with nine points and five boards, but he’s been pretty solid of late – despite a frustrating end to the recent roadie --- going scoreless against the Clippers and getting tossed in Memphis.
Aside from that, Thompson was good in Chicago, finishing with 14 points, eight boards and a game-high three blocks. And in the first three games of the trip, the ninth-year man from Texas was outstanding – averaging 23.3 points and 12.3 boards, including a career-best 35-point showing in a dramatic win over the Pistons.
With R.J. Barrett out with an ankle injury, the Knicks are desperately lacking in firepower from the backcourt.
In their recent loss to the Sixers, they started Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton, and got some decent results – each notching double-figures, with Payton – the Knicks’ leading assist man – leading New York with seven helpers a game.
Payton, who’s posted three double-digit assist games this season, has also tallied double-figures in five of his last seven games. He was injured this season’s first head-to-heading with Cleveland, but has also scored double-digits in five of the last seven against the Wine & Gold.
On Monday afternoon, he’ll match up against Darius Garland, who seems to be improving game-by-game, despite a rough night protecting the basketball on Saturday.
The precocious rookie from Vanderbilt had a very nice road trip overall – averaging 15.8 points and 6.7 assists over the six-game run, extending his double-digit scoring streak to a dozen games, currently the longest stretch of any rookie.
Garland has now canned at least one three-pointer in 12 straight games and, over that stretch, leads his Draft class in three-point makes (26), is second in scoring (15.6) and second in assists (5.6).