2023 NBA Playoff First Round Series Preview: New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Elsa/Getty Images

2023 NBA Playoff First Round Series Preview: New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers


2023 NBA Playoff First Round Series Preview: New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers


Elsa/Getty Images

The number four seeded Cleveland Cavaliers are facing off against the number five seeded New York Knicks in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Who has the advantage and what are the determining factors going to be in this series? Find all the information you need to know heading into this matchup below, including a prediction!


Regular Season Matchups

Knicks at Cavaliers: 10/30/2022

Result: Cavaliers 121-108 Knicks

Cavaliers G Donovan Mitchell: 38 points, 12-for-20 shooting, 8-for-13 shooting from three

Knicks G Jalen Brunson: 16 points, 8-for-19 shooting, four rebounds, seven assists 


Cavaliers at Knicks: 12/4/2022

Result: Knicks 92-81 Cavaliers

Knicks G Jalen Brunson: 23 points, 7-for-16 shooting, 7-for-8 shooting from the free throw line

Cavaliers G Donovan Mitchell: 23 points, 8-for-22 shooting, four rebounds, five assists 


Cavaliers at Knicks: 1/24/2023

Result: Knicks 105-103 Cavaliers

Knicks F Julius Randle: 36 points, 11-for-21 shooting, 8-for-12 shooting from three, 13 rebounds

Cavaliers G Donovan Mitchell: 24 points, 9-for-24 shooting, 6-for-14 shooting from three


Knicks at Cavaliers: 3/31/2023

Result: Knicks 130-116 Cavaliers

Knicks G Jalen Brunson: 48 points, 18-for-32 shooting, 7-for-12 shooting from three, nine assists

Cavaliers G Donovan Mitchell: 42 points, 16-for-23 shooting, 6-for-9 shooting from three

Three Major Storylines 

  1. The Health of Julius Randle

Julius Randle missed the final five games of the regular season due to a left ankle sprain he suffered against the Miami Heat on March 29. His status for game one in Cleveland has been in question all week, but Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported on Friday that the two-time All-Star is targeting a return for the series opener. Randle is going to be a game-time decision, and even if he is unable to go, he should be back for game two or three.  

In a series that is projected to go six or seven games, the Knicks need their best players on the floor. Jalen Brunson went for 48 points in the team’s only game against the Cavaliers in which Randle didn’t play. The guard is no stranger to playing his best when a co-star is out, as he scored 41 points in game two of the first round against the Utah Jazz when Luka Dončić was out. Brunson can shoulder the load for a game or two, but the Knicks need Randle on the floor to advance. 


  1. Bench Scoring

Both the Knicks and Cavaliers ranked near the bottom of the league in bench scoring this season. New York averaged 29.5 points (26th in the NBA) from their second unit, while Cleveland got just 28.7 points (28th in the NBA). In order to hav success in the playoffs, teams may need a game or two in which someone can come off the bench and score 20-25 points to gain momentum back in a series.

Immanuel Quickley has been that guy off the bench for the Knicks all season, averaging 14.9 points on 44.8 shooting in 28.8 minutes a night (all career-highs). The third-year guard out of the University of Kentucky is a Sixth Man of the Year finalist, not only because of his scoring ability, but as a result of his improvements on defense.

Caris LeVert may come off the bench for the Cavaliers, depending on the availability of Isaac Okoro. If LeVert winds up being their six man, Cleveland will need a consistent 10-15 points from him. The Knicks have the deeper bench, so the Cavaliers need the most out of the guys head coach J.B. Bickerstaff relies on.

  1. Securing the Defensive Rebound

The Knicks were one of the best teams in the league at attacking the offensive glass throughout the regular season. New York ranked third in the NBA with 12.6 offensive rebounds per game. Mitchell Robinson led the league with 4.5 offensive rebounds a game, so the Knicks have a major threat on the glass. If Cleveland fails to box him out, New York is going to constantly get second chance looks. 

The Cavaliers have both Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley on the interior, so they should be able to handle what the Knicks have to offer down low. Cleveland only allowed 12.08 offensive rebounds per game in the regular season, the ninth lowest in the NBA. If they can sustain those numbers against Robinson and the Knicks, they will be in great shape. 


How New York can win:

The Knicks will go on to win this series if Jalen Brunson is able to create constant rim pressure in the lane. All the attention will be on him, but he is great with the ball in his hands in high-pressure games. I expect to see Isaac Okoro on Brunson for a majority of the time, although Caris LeVert can defend him with length as well. The Knicks guard averaged 25.3 points and 6.0 assists in four regular season matchups with the Cavaliers. Can New York get even more production from their star guard?


How Cleveland can win: 

The Cavaliers can win this series if their complimentary pieces are able to score at a high enough percentage. Donovan Mitchell is going to get his, but what will the rest of the starting five be able to do? Darius Garland has developed into one of the best young guards in the league, scoring 21.6 points per game. Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen create an interior presence that is hard to break down. Mitchell will wind up averaging 25-30 points in this series, but the Cavaliers need the rest of their core to step up.


Series Prediction: New York Knicks over the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven games

The Knicks have a point to prove in the series after they failed to acquire Donovan Mitchell in the offseason. New York won three of the four regular season matchups, including the fourth and final one without Julius Randle. The Knicks need him available, and if he is, Brunson and the rest of their core will be able to win this series, closing it out on the road in Cleveland. 


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