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The Cavaliers tip off their toughest week of the season on Sunday night

The Cavaliers tip off their toughest week of the season on Sunday night – welcoming the first of three heavyweights to Cleveland when the Knicks roll in for a nationally-televised affair as we head for the home stretch.

The Wine & Gold split a quick two-game trip, going wire-to-wire over the Pistons on Friday after dropping a frustrating decision two nights earlier in Chicago. Despite playing without Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert, the Cavs ran out to a 26-point first-half lead before holding off Detroit’s late rally – sweeping the season series for the second straight year behind a huge shooting performance by Darius Garland.

The shorthanded and reeling Knicks have dropped seven of their last nine games including a wire-to-wire loss on Thursday night against the Warriors at the Garden. Jalen Brunson led New York with 27 points, but the Knicks shot just 37 percent from the floor and couldn’t withstand a big effort from Steph Curry, who doubled-up with 31 points and 11 boards.

After their five-game First Round series last spring, these two have split the two games this year – with the Knicks notching a blowing out win at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in the first week of the season before Cleveland returned the favor in New York the next night, holding Tom Thibodeau ‘s squad to 89 points. The Cavaliers welcome the Conference-leading Celtics to town on Tuesday night.

The Knicks have been missing so many pieces over the past month, but their All-Star guard Jalen Brunson has been their pillar as they tread water in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture.

The 6th-year man from Villanova is averaging 31.7ppg in the month of February, with six games of at least 30-points. Averaging a career-best 27.7ppg on the season, Brunson flummoxed the Cavs in last year’s Playoff series, topping the 20-point mark in all five contests.

In two matchups this year, Cleveland has kept Brunson relative in check, averaging 21.7 points and 3.0 assists on 39 percent shooting from the floor, 20 percent from deep.

Although he’ll see plenty of Isaac Okoro, if he’s able to go on Sunday, Brunson will start out against Darius Garland, who had a fantastic Friday night in Motown – drilling six of his eight three-pointers to lead both teams with 29 points.

Garland didn’t play in either of the early season meetings against New York. In the five-game Playoff series last year, Garland averaged 20.6 points and 5.0 assists per, with a pair of 20-point games and a 32-point effort in Cleveland’s lone win in Game 2.

On January 29, Josh Hart moved into the starting lineup – and he’s been really good from that moment forward.

Over that 14-game stretch, the Villanova product is averaging 12.8 points and 10.4 boards per, with seven double-doubles and two triple-doubles in the mix. In Thursday night’s loss to the Warriors, Hart led both teams with 18 rebounds.

Hart notched double-figure scoring in three games of the five-game set against Cleveland last spring, two games with double-digit boards.

The Cavaliers got a tough guy like Max Strus in the offseason to lock horns with a fellow hardnosed player like Hart.

Strus comes into Sunday’s contest riding a nice stretch – netting double-digit scoring in five of his last six games, including his heroic 21-point night last week against Dallas.

The Knicks have stifled Strus in two games so far this season – holding him to single-digit scoring in both games, shooting 28 percent from the floor, including 1-for-12 from beyond the arc.


The Reporter Newspaper
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