Frank Ntilikina, Collin Sexton
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The New York Knicks finish a three-game homestand against the Cleveland Cavaliers and can avenge two disappointing losses in the process.

Danny Small

NEW YORK, NY—The New York Knicks are looking for growth and development above all else this season. Sure, the goal is to win games and stay competitive, but that isn’t something that happens overnight.

The Knicks welcome the Cleveland Cavaliers to Madison Square Garden on Monday night with the rare opportunity to atone for two of their most crushing losses of the season.

Hornets Heartbreak

After a thrilling victory in MSG over the Dallas Mavericks and Kristaps Porzingis on Thursday, the Knicks fell in crushing fashion to the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday. It was the second-straight night Charlotte won with a late three-pointer and they pulled the win out in New York despite trailing the Knicks for the vast majority of the game.

A Devonte’ Graham three over Frank Ntilikina sealed the one-point victory for the Hornets and Julius Randle was unable to sink the game-winner on the other end.

“You don’t want to lose any game, especially when you have a solid lead going,” head coach David Fizdale said after the game. “Give them credit, they turned up their defense on us and they really shot the heck out of that three-ball. Seventeen for 48 from three, that’s pretty impressive. That last one was the backbreaker, but I thought Frank [Ntilikina] was right there contesting it. The kid just hit a tough shot.”

Fizdale’s late-game playcalling was questionable, at best, but the Knicks should have never allowed the Hornets to creep back into the game. The players took accountability for letting that happen.

“Experience and close out games early. Go right back at them after halftime and the stretch right before the third quarter,” Ntilikina said when asked how the Knicks can close out games. “We have to learn how to close the game. We have to learn how to play with the lead and be relentless.”

Ntilikina’s sentiment was echoed by his teammates. RJ Barrett and Julius Randle both played major roles in building a 15-point lead in the third quarter.

“Especially when you have a lead early, you want to be able to put them away early; so that they don’t have a chance to come back,” Barrett said in a quiet locker room.

“It was difficult,” admitted Randle when asked about closing the game out. “It was difficult, but we put ourselves in that position most of the game and for us to not come out on the other side it’s tough.”

The loss to Charlotte was particularly brutal. It would have been the first time the Knicks won two games in a row this season. Not to mention, it could have given the team some momentum coming into a rematch with the Cavaliers and a chance to win three in a row for the first time since November of last season.

Another Shot at the Cavs

This is the second time Cleveland is coming to the Garden this season and the first meeting was…eventful, to say the least. The Cavs thumped the Knicks by the score of 108-87 and the embarrassing loss led to an impromptu press conference from team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry.

The Cavaliers outplayed the Knicks from start to finish and it was New York’s third blowout loss in just four games at home. This wasn’t the type of “gritty” team that the organization was selling before the season.

However, the NBA scheduling gods are giving the Knicks an opportunity to set things right.

1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Back

Progression is not linear so it’s fair to expect this team to go through peaks and valleys. A win over the superstar who requested a trade? That could be the signature win of the season, and for good reason. Thursday was undoubtedly a step forward.

But following that up with losses to the Hornets and Cavaliers would be two steps back. On Monday, the Knicks will play their third game in six nights—all at home.

That’s not an easy schedule by any means, but it looks cushy compared to what Charlotte and Cleveland are doing. Their trips to New York both come on the second leg of a back-to-back. Those are the types of opportunities good teams take advantage of, but the Knicks squandered their first chance to cash in.

Furthermore, the schedule is only ratcheting up from this point forward. Following the Cavs, the Knicks play 12 straight opponents who were playoff teams last season. The 11th game comes against another playoff team—the Portland Trail Blazers—and it kicks off a west-coast road swing with games against the Blazers, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, and Denver Nuggets.

Although it’s just a Monday night in mid-November, the Knicks desperately need a win to avenge the past and prepare for the future.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.