Let’s be honest, this is the matchup everyone’s been waiting for, right? Kyrie Irving vs the PG who puts the Lin in Linsanity. That’s right, the Cleveland Cavaliers (13-19, 10th in the East) travel to “basketball mecca” to take on the Jeremy Lin and the New York Knickerbockers (17-18, 7th in the East).
The Cavaliers will be looking to bounce back from a very tough loss last night against the Celtics. If there’s any team for the Cavaliers to bounce back against, it would seemingly be the Knicks. In their last 20 matchups, the Cavaliers hold a 16-4 edge. Last April when the Knicks beat the Cavaliers, it snapped a 11 game win streak by the Cavaliers. The Knicks haven’t won consecutive matchups against the Cavaliers since they had a 4 game streak against Cleveland in 2005-06.
Of course, most of those wins came with LeBron James wearing the wine and gold. Now it’s Kyrie Irving’s turn to carve a legacy with Cleveland against the Knicks. Standing in his way is the story of all stories, Mr. Jeremy Lin.
Both Lin and Irving are listed at 6’3”, but Lin is listed at 10 pounds heavier than Kyrie and there’s no question that Lin plays bigger than Irving. But Kyrie holds the advantage in quickness and ball handling. Both players are shooting lights out, Lin at .471 from the field and Irving at .479 from the field. Irving is shooting better from 3-point range (.435 to .333), but Lin gets to the FT line much more frequently than Irving does (7.6 FTA per 36 minutes to 4.7 FTA per 36 minutes). Lin has played much better defensively than Irving (97 points per 100 possessions to 110 points per 100 possessions). Give Lin the advantage in rebounding and assists, but give Irving the edge in limiting turnovers.
That’s the tale of the tape, but the real answer will play itself out on the court tonight. The Knicks will be without Bill Walker and Iman Shumpert is listed as questionable for the Knicks, but their full starting lineup of Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler are all healthy. The Cavaliers are still weeks away from a potential Varejao return, so Semih Erden will likely continue to fill in his role beside Kyrie Irving, Anthony Parker, Omri Casspi, and Antawn Jamison.
For the Cavaliers to win this game, they will need Jamison to play a big role on both ends of the court. Carmelo tends to get his, and we’ll see what Lin does against Irving, but Stoudemire is the X-Factor in this matchup, for me. Jamison needs to do better than 8 points like he had last night. He needs to be active and force the defense to pay more attention to him so as to free up space for Irving to operate. Defensively, Jamison must be physical with Amare, as Stoudemire will do whatever he wants if this becomes a battle of quickness and finesse.
The bench battle will be another area to pay attention to. The Knicks have done a great job of getting key performances from different bench players on different nights. It’s the kind of spread out success that so often makes good teams into great teams. The Knicks bench also gives up the 8th fewest points in the NBA. They are good not losing games for the starters. Cleveland is still 11th in bench scoring and give up the 7th fewest points. The Cavaliers bench needs to have another big game, as bench play is one of the matchups that could go either way.
Finally, I feel like a broken record, but the Cavaliers absolutely must figure out this 1st quarter defensive problem. I don’t know if it’s preparedness (or lack thereof), focus, jitters, or what. But it seems like every game the Cavaliers fall behind by 10+ points and give up 25+ points in the 1st quarter. It’s one thing to do that at home against an aging and struggling Boston team, but quite another against a younger and hotter basketball team inside Madison Square Garden.
But throw out all this matchup talk. You all know that the only thing everyone is going to be watching in this game is Irving vs Lin. Fair or not (to either player), these are two of this next wave of young PGs who will be going head to head for years to come (along with the likes of Ricky Rubio, John Wall, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, etc.….just look at the excellent crop of PGs in that Rising Stars game).
For Cavaliers fans, seeing our #1 overall pick, our hope for the future of this franchise, being outplayed by an undrafted free agent would be tough. There would be excuses made, such as how this is Lin’s 2nd season in the NBA and how Lin played 4 years of college while Kyrie is only 19 years old, etc. But the Cavaliers believe Irving will be a superstar. Words like “special” keep being used. If that’s the case, you would hope Irving would rise to the occasion of squaring off against Jeremy Lin in the biggest basketball stage in the world in Madison Square Garden. If it turns out the Knicks have the better PG in this found treasure that is Jeremy Lin, I think it would be a tough pill for Cleveland.
One game won’t decide who is ultimately better. But this is their first matchup, and hopefully the first of many. The Jeremy Lin story is something great, something that is easy to root for and feel good about. Here in Cleveland, we just hope our PG is a little bit better.
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