With the Cleveland Cavaliers Game 1 battle scheduled against the New York Knicks in the First Round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs, two of the most notable teams in the league will try to turn the corner as a franchise. Ahead of the Cavs-Knicks game, we’ll be making our Cavs Game 1 predictions.
The Cleveland Cavaliers improved this season, as Donovan Mitchell provides an offensive boost that they haven’t had since the LeBron James era.
Their offense has been ranked ninth in offensive rating (116.1) but 25th in points per game (112.3), as they didn’t so much add firepower with Mitchell by trading Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen for him as they improved their offensive process. However, while the addition of Mitchell has been significant in a variety of ways, Cleveland has been relying on their defense more than their offense to excel. After all, their defense ranks first in both opponents points per game (106.9) and defensive rating (110.6) in the 2022-23 regular season.
Ending the regular season on a high note by going on both a four-game and three-game win streak in their last 10 games, the Cavs have played as well as any down the stretch. Yet, one of their three losses came against their upcoming playoff opponent. In fact, the Knicks took Cleveland down 130-116 without Julius Randle, their leading scorer. That being said, while Randle has been injured since Mar. 29, he’s hoping to face Cleveland in Game 1.
Still, Cleveland has home court advantage as the fourth-seed. If the Cavs hope to make it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals — in which they would face the winner of the First Round series between the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat — they must take care of business at home.
Which brings us to our Cavs Game 1 predictions.
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3. A Game 1 loss by the Cleveland Cavaliers sets the tone for the rest of the series
The Cleveland Cavaliers have always thrived on the energy of their fan base. However, this season, the relationship between the home crowd and team play is tangible. While going 20-21 when they’re away from the crib, Cleveland is 31-10 at home. As a result, the Cavs simply have a much better chance of winning the series if they defeat the Knicks in Game 1.
Conversely, if the New York Knicks defeat the Cavs in Game 1, it’ll give them an even greater level of confidence entering Game 2, which will also be in Cleveland. Perhaps the Cavs can go to New York and steal a game or two back from the Knicks. Yet, unlike Cleveland, New York has played well both at home (23-18) and on the road (24-17) this season.
2. Evan Mobley is the Cleveland Cavaliers’ best performer
There are three things that Cleveland Cavaliers fan favorite Evan Mobley has in his favor right now no matter what. The first is that New York Knicks forward Julius Randle likely won’t be at full health even if he returns. As Randle relies on his physical attributes and ability to make moves with the ball in his hands, any restrictions to his ability to move laterally or vertically is likely to impact his overall gameplay.
The second is that Mobley has in his favor is that if Randle isn’t ready to go, Knicks forward Obi Toppin will replace him in the starting lineup. Toppin averaged 21.8 points per game in his last five games of the regular season, all with Randle absent. However, he only managed 3.4 rebounds per game. Mobley should dominate on the boards in this game.
The last is that the Knicks are likely to focus the bulk of their defensive attention on Cleveland’s star backcourt.
1. The New York Knicks win
There was a silver lining in the New York Knicks having to play though injury as of late. They were able to give players the types of opportunities that they couldn’t have if they were fully healthy. This was seen in more than just Obi Toppin averaging 21.8 points per game in their last five games despite averaging just 7.4 points per game this season. It’s also seen in Immanuel Quickley averaging 28.8 points per game in April so far.
Both Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle will likely suit up for the Knicks. Still, Quickley and Toppin will either carry over the momentum or the confidence from their recent stretch. That said, having that type of firepower on the bench will make a major difference for the Knicks in their impending matchup. Especially when there are already three high-quality starters combining for 68.7 points per game. Cleveland’s top-ranked defense will be tested for all 48 minutes. But this time it fails as the Knicks wear down a shortened Cavs rotation.