By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Cavaliers | Madison Square Garden
When: Thursday | 8:00 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (18-27): The Knicks are on a roll, riding a three-game winning streak into tonight's matchup with Cleveland. Carmelo Anthony, averaging 40.3 points over his last three games, continues to terrorize opposing defenses, but his teammates have begun to deliver consistent support of late. The Knicks have gone small since losing Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani to injuries, and the improved spacing has yielded an average of 116 points per game over the last three. J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. have been deadly off the bench, combining for over 30 points per contest between them during the winning streak.
Cleveland (16-29): The Cavs have struggled to put things together in Kyrie Irving's third pro season. Despite selecting 12 players in the last three drafts, including four in the top four, Cleveland can't seem to find the right mix of players to jump into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Even Irving, the recently-selected All-Star starter, has seen his scoring efficiency drop as questions about his commitment to defense mount. In order to rectify the league's worst wing situation, the Cavs gave up on the failed Andrew Bynum experiment and traded draft picks for Luol Deng, one of the best all-around small forwards in the NBA.
The Numbers Game
Jeremy Tyler scored a career-high 17 points on Tuesday against Boston on 7 of 9 shooting, with five rebounds and two blocks. It was as many points as he'd scored in the previous five games combined.
Matchup to Watch
J.R. Smith vs. Dion Waiters
When the Cavs selected Waiters with the 4th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, they envisioned a running mate for Irving who could take pressure off the franchise player by putting the ball in the basket. After experimenting with him as a starter, it became clear early on that his ideal role would be as a scoring 6th man, a la J.R. Smith. While he hasn't lived up to expectations to this point, he has improved as a three-point shooter (37.6%) in his second season. Smith, on the other hand, is beginning to heat up, averaging 15 points, three rebounds, 3 assists and 47 percent from three in his last nine games.
What to Look For
After losing both Iman Shumpert (shoulder), Kenyon Martin (ankle) and Beno Udrih (illness) to injury against Boston, the Knicks could be forced to deal with a shorthanded roster once again. Martin and coach Mike Woodson both said after the blowout win that K-Mart could've returned to the game if necessary. If Shumpert can't go, then Woodson can decide between Martin or pehaps one of Smith or Hardaway to step into the starting lineup...Against Irving, New York will need a team effort on defense. The Cavs' guard loves to break defenders down off the dribble and get to the basket, but he can also pull up from three...Deng provides a significant upgrade from Alonzo Gee, both as a scorer and with his length defending Anthony. That said, the Cavs typically play a traditional front line of Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao, which could have trouble guarding the Knicks' small-ball spread attack.