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There are multiple series in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs that aren’t too exciting. The Celtics, Bucks and 76ers should all cruise to the second round of games. However, this shouldn’t be the case when the New York Knicks face the Cleveland Cavaliers. This series could easily go seven games, as both teams are fairly even on the stat sheet.
New York has controlled the series this season, winning three of four games. However, the Cavaliers have home court in this matchup, and they’ve been phenomenal in Cleveland. Their high level of play should only intensify in the playoffs when the home fans become more engaged.
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The Knicks and Cavaliers will compete for the fifth time this season on Saturday night. Both teams have been solid throughout the year, but the edge slightly goes to the Knicks. The reason to lean toward New York in this game and throughout the series is because of their ability to win on the road.
The Knicks are better as visitors than they are at home against the spread and straight up. New York is 26-14-1 ATS and 24-17 SU on the road in 2023. Their success has been thanks to players like Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson. Additionally, role players like Immanuel Quickley have also been fantastic throughout the season, making plays in clutch moments. If the Knicks can win in Cleveland, it will be a quick series because the Cavaliers won’t match this when the series shifts to New York.
The Cavaliers are 31-10 at home and 47-17 as favorites. Yet, they’re 19-20-2 ATS on the road and 20-21 SU. A good team wins over 50% of their games on the road while dominating at home, and Cleveland doesn’t fit this breakdown. We expect the Cavaliers to come out strong in this series, but New York was a terrible first-round draw. Even though the Knicks are underdogs, they have the more complete team in this series.
The Knicks' success started in the offseason when they signed Jalen Brunson in free agency. Brunson came from Dallas, and he was critical to the Mavericks' success last season. Dallas made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, but this season they’re left sitting at home. New York and Brunson don’t have that issue in the Eastern Conference, and we like them to win this series as underdogs.
Brunson can take over games from a scoring perspective, but he is the quarterback of the team. The point guard leads the Knicks in assists with 6.2 per game. The Knicks are at their best when Brunson is taking the ball up the court and finding Randle in the low post. Randle is a matchup nightmare for any team in the Eastern Conference because of his size and ability to score all over the floor.
When Randle is locked in, he can drain shots from the perimeter. The interior dominance is something we’ve come to expect with the 6’8 power forward. He has been listed as questionable for the Knicks, but we expect him to be on the floor in this spot.
The Cavaliers have a major issue, and their problem is not good in the playoffs. The issue is the fact Cleveland has been a different team on the road than at home in 2023. The Cavaliers are 51-31 on the season, but 31 of those wins and just 10 losses have come at home. They won’t have the away issue in game one of the series at home, but covering a five-point spread could still be tough against a pesky Knicks squad.
Donovan Mitchell is the player to watch for the Cavaliers and will be the key to the team’s success throughout the first round. He is scoring 28.3 points per game while shooting over 48% from the field this year. His success has been compounded thanks to the passing strength of Darius Garland.
Garland, the team’s point guard, is averaging 7.8 assists per game. He has been the facilitator in getting every player on the team involved. We believe his passing strength will shine, and it’s the best route to Cleveland winning on the road.
The biggest unknown in game one of the series is the status of Randle. If he is on the floor, and line movement would show he is playing, New York with the points is our best play. If he isn’t playing, we still like the Knicks to pick up the win. However, we recommend waiting to see line movement.
If Randle is ruled out, this five-point spread could quickly move to seven, which is a better deal for the Knicks without their best player. Our initial lean is to take New York but wait until the final injury report is released.
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Tanner Kern has been working in the betting industry since 2020. He currently is a social media content creator at DraftKings and contributes to multiple sites in addition to WSN, including Forbes and VSiN. He is also the cohost of the podcast Ride the Line at WSN.More info on Tanner Kern
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