It’s crunch time in the NBA, with the 2022-23 regular season coming to a close on Sunday, April 9. It’s that unparalleled time of year when all one can talk about is their team’s magic number to clinch a playoff berth or slide out of the field altogether, the time when the cream of the crop rises and we prepare to see who will be left standing after two months of playoff basketball.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have all but secured their playoff positioning heading into the final two weeks of the NBA regular season. They’re 4.5 games ahead of the New York Knicks for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference ahead of the slate of games set for Wednesday, March 29. The Knicks have a game against the Miami Heat tonight that could keep their chances of moving up in the field alive (or come close to eliminating them entirely) but the real big mover will be on Friday when Cleveland and New York square off at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, a home game for the Cavs. If Cleveland wins that game, they’ll be a minimum of five games ahead in the standings, a deficit that the Knicks won’t have time to recover from.
The Cavaliers also have room to improve. They sit two games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 3 seed in the East with five games left to play. The Sixers have two games in hand on Cleveland, so it’d take a catastrophic failure on their part (and a handy winning streak by the Cavs) for them to swap places.
The Knicks are in a similar position as it pertains to the No. 5 seed: they’re 2.5 games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets, which will keep things interesting down the stretch. They’re three games ahead of the Heat, who could start breathing down their necks if they lose tonight. The six seed is the farthest New York could comfortably fall: go any below that and they’d get relegated to the Play-In Tournament, forced to jockey for their spot in the postseason field with an extra do-or-die series.
The betting lines for the contest won’t drop until Thursday night or Friday morning at the earliest, so here’s a look at how the Cavaliers and Knicks stack up ahead of this pivotal matchup.
Right now the Cavaliers are listed with the tenth-best odds of winning the NBA Championship this season, listed as far apart as +2800 to +4000 at sportsbooks in Ohio. The Knicks have the 13th-best odds, with their margin drifting from +6000 to +8000. Odds can vary dramatically from sportsbook to sportsbook, so make sure you shop around first if you’re going to place a bet in order to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal. Bonuses and promotional offers can also differ between betting establishments, so make sure you take a look at all the different offers available to maximize your chances of winning big.
The two teams have met twice so far this season, with New York winning each of the first two matchups: a 92-81 defensive slugfest back in early December, and a 105-103 nailbiter in late January where the Cavaliers had a pair of chances to tie the game with just under five seconds to go, but both shots missed. The good news for Cleveland fans, though, is that both those games were on the road: perhaps we’ll see a reverse of fortunes with the game played in the Cavaliers’ home.
It’s possible that New York just has Cleveland’s number: even if the Cavaliers are the better team on paper, some lineups are just a matchup nightmare. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though, as the two teams have opposing strengths. Cleveland is one of the better defensive teams in the league, especially in the paint. With big men like 6-foot-11 Evan Mobley and 6-foot-9 Jarrett Allen anchoring the team down low, it’s difficult to drive against this Cavaliers team. Allen missed Tuesday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks with a groin injury, so his ability to get back on the court could be critical against the Knicks’ Jalen Brunson, a 6-foot-2 guard who’s adept at driving into the paint in spite of his size, as well as 6-foot-8 Julius Randle, who’s averaging 25.4 points per game this season, most of the time operating in the low post. Brunson is dealing with a hand injury as well (after nearly six months of nonstop basketball, the bumps and bruises are starting to pile up for many players), and he’s listed as questionable to play ahead of Wednesday’s game against Miami.
It’s tough to feel confident about either team, but I’m going to give Cleveland the edge in this one, especially because they’ll have more time to rest up. It’s a quick turnaround for the Knicks after a grueling game against the Heat’s punishing defense.