Scared of Knicks? Cavs privately hoping for Nets as playoff opponent

Donovan Mitchell, Miles McBride, Quentin Grimes, New York Knicks

The New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers are on a collision course as the Brooklyn Nets continue to fade.

If the playoffs begin today, the fourth-seed Cavaliers will hold a homecourt advantage against the fifth-seed Knicks. But even having that edge isn’t enough for the Cavaliers to feel comfortable in a potential first-round matchup against the Knicks.

The Cavaliers are reportedly hoping to face the Nets rather than the Knicks.

No one inside the organization would say this publicly — and they shouldn’t. But multiple people I’ve spoken to recently are privately hoping for a Brooklyn matchup. It’s easy to understand why. Even though the Cavs, with home-court advantage, would likely be capable of competing — and possibly winning — a seven-game series against any of the teams currently behind them in the standings, the Nets would be Cleveland’s easiest path out of round one.

Chris Fedor via

The fates of the two New York teams have dramatically shifted since the trade deadline.

The departure of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving has reduced the Nets to a borderline playoff team, teetering on the brink of sliding further to the play-in tournament. They have lost their last three games and 10 of their last 17 since the trade deadline.

On the other hand, the Knicks have become deeper with the arrival of Josh Hart. They have gone 12-3 since Hart joined them at the trade deadline. Their three losses came when Hart’s Villanova teammate and the Knicks’ rising star Jalen Brunson had a left foot injury.

Hart’s versatility on both ends has galvanized the Knicks’ nine-man rotation. They have the third-best offense and have climbed to eight on defense since Hart’s arrival. Only the Philadelphia 76ers (13-3) have a better record and net rating during that span.

The Knicks enter Monday’s game against a depleted Minnesota Timberwolves team with a 2.5-game lead over the sixth-seed Nets. Interestingly, the Cavaliers visit the Nets on Tuesday in Brooklyn.

A first-round meeting between the Knicks and the Cavaliers is a surefire blockbuster after all the drama that transpired last summer. The Cavaliers pulled the rug from under the Knicks and scooped in Donovan Mitchell in a blockbuster trade.

If they are to meet in the playoffs, Mitchell, who became a four-time All-Star this season, will be motivated to show up against his hometown team and avenge last year’s playoff loss to Brunson.

While still with the Dallas Mavericks, Brunson averaged 27.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists with a 48/34/85 shooting split in six games against Mitchell and his former team Utah Jazz.

Mitchell put up 25.5 points, 5.7 assists, and 4.3 rebounds but only shot 39.8 percent from the field and an atrocious 20.8 percent from behind the three-point arc.

The Cavaliers won their first meeting against the Knicks this season, with Mitchell and Kevin Love’s pick-and-pop killing his hometown team down the stretch. Love is no longer with the Cavaliers, and the Knicks have since tightened up their rotation leading to their current stellar run.

The Knicks won their last two meetings, with Mitchell getting checked. The Cavaliers star was limited to 37 percent shooting in those losses.

The Knicks could clinch their season series when they meet for the final time in the regular season at the end of the month.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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