Knicks vs. Cavaliers series prediction and odds (Knicks can win if Randle is healthy)
The No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup in the Eastern Conference this postseason is between the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks, the two teams that were in on Donovan Mitchell in the offseason.
Mitchell ended up in Cleveland, but that didn’t stop the Knicks from beating the Cavs three out of the four times that these teams played in the regular season.
Cleveland finished the regular season with the No. 2 overall net rating and No. 1 defensive rating in the NBA, so this team looks like a bonafide title contender on paper.
The Knicks, who finished the season eighth in net rating, are one of the best road teams in the NBA (24-17) this season, but they could be without All-Star Julius Randle to start this series after he sprained his ankle on March 29 against the Miami Heat.
Randle missed the team’s final five games of the regular season, leading to Obi Toppin starting in his place.
Oddsmakers have the Cavs favored in this matchup. Let’s break down the latest odds and my pick to win the series.
Knicks vs. Cavaliers series odds
Knicks vs. Cavaliers correct score (Exact outcome odds)
Knicks vs. Cavaliers series prediction and pick
There are several factors to consider in this series, but the first one I want to look at is how these teams fared head to head.
New York lost the first matchup back on Oct. 30, but that was before Tom Thibodeau shortened his rotation and prioritized defense, taking Evan Fournier and Derrick Rose out of the lineup.
The first game the Knicks transitioned to that new lineup? Dec. 4 in a 92-81 win over Cleveland.
The Knicks gave up 23 3-pointers in the first meeting between these teams, but they held the Cavs in check from deep in two of the other three meetings before outshooting them on March 31.
While Cleveland is No. 2 in the NBA in opponent 3-pointers made and the Knicks are in the bottom 10, New York has stayed alive against Cleveland on several occasions.
The health of Randle is going to be a massive key, as is the shooting of RJ Barrett for the Knicks. Barrett is shooting his best percentage from 2-point range in his career, but he’s been brutal on shots outside of three feet.
Barrett’s field goal percentage drops to 40.1 percent from three to 10 feet and 30.0 percent from 10-16 feet. He’s also shooting his worst percentage from 3 of his career.
Why does that matter so much?
Well, the Knicks are going to need his scoring if Randle is at less than 100 percent, and Cleveland has an elite interior defense. That gives an edge to the Cavs.
However, I think the Knicks have a key advantage with their road record, which is one of the best in the NBA. Cleveland went 20-21 on the road, but lost both games between these teams at Madison Square Garden.
New York is also No. 2 in the NBA in rebounding percentage and offensive rebounding percentage, and it abused Cleveland on the glass in the last meeting between these teams, grabbing 16 offensive boards.
The Cavs can go big with Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, but ultimately it limits their floor spacing. If Cleveland wants to play for 2-point shots and slow the game down, that benefits a Knicks team whose biggest weakness offensively is shooting the 3.
The fact that there are two days off between Game 1 and Game 2 and Game 2 and Game 3 in this series has led to me being optimistic that Randle is able to tough it out and play.
Cleveland is a great team on paper, but the Knicks match up well with the Cavs’ smaller guards. This should be a dogfight of a series, but I think the Knicks win it in six.
Odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.