julius randle knicks
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The Knicks were shut down by a tough Milwaukee Bucks defense on Friday and continue their road trip against the speedy Cavaliers.

Sunday’s tilt has its fair share of drama for an early-season game. Cleveland acquired star guard and New York native Donovan Mitchell over the summer after New York couldn’t strike a deal with the Jazz. Mitchell has since come out hot in the Cavs’ first five games and is putting up career numbers.

The Knicks would love to counter Friday’s rough effort with a big win in Cleveland, but that’s a tall order. Through five games, the Cavaliers are second only to the Bucks in team defense.

Time: Sunday, Oct. 30, 6:00 p.m. ET

TV: MSG

Injuries: Quentin Grimes (foot, out), Ricky Rubio (knee, out), Dylan Windler (ankle, out), Darius Garland (eye, out)

Betting line: Knicks +4, Over/Under 220.5 (via FanDuel)

Key Storyline: Did the Knicks miss out on Donovan Mitchell? It’s impossible to look at Donovan Mitchell’s numbers this season and not be at least a little bummed the Knicks didn’t trade for him. Elmsford’s own has posted 31 points and 6.4 assists through his first five games while shooting 47.8% from the field and 40.5% from three, all career highs.

Mitchell is also playing the best defense of his career, something the Knicks sorely miss with Quentin Grimes still out with a bad foot. But having Mitchell would mean RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Grimes, and Mitchell Robinson all being in Utah along with several draft picks. The Cavaliers landed him for much less.

New York is doing just fine with Jalen Brunson and without Donovan Mitchell, so Sunday’s game really should be Cleveland’s to lose.

Key matchup: Julius Randle vs. Evan Mobley. Julius Randle has always played well against Cleveland in his career, averaging 19.6 points and 8.6 rebounds in 17 games. Randle has also been efficient against the Cavaliers, posting a true shooting percentage (TS%) of 60.6% and making 36.6% of his threes.

Randle will need to put up similar numbers against Mobley, who has length for days. The former USC star is a strong defender who’s already posted a 2.2 defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) this season. Randle has a clear strength advantage and must use it to dominate the paint, particularly against an average rebounder like Mobley.

X-Factors: RJ Barrett and Evan Fournier. The Knicks’ scoring attack has been middling early on, largely because Barrett and Fournier have started slow. Barrett will break out of his funk without a doubt, but Fournier’s slow start should be something of a concern. Either way, both absolutely must have a strong showing in Cleveland if the Knicks are to have a chance.

Fournier will likely be covered by Caris LeVert — not known for his defense — and could use a night full of key three-pointers. Barrett, on the other hand, should remember was the No. 3 pick in the draft and just bully Cavs wing Dean Wade. Unlike LeVert, Wade is known for his defense and could be a thorn in Barrett’s side.

Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), Evan Fournier (SG), RJ Barrett (SF), Julius Randle (PF), Mitchell Robinson (C)

Cavaliers predicted starters: Donovan Mitchell (PG), Caris LeVert (SG), Dean Wade (SF), Evan Mobley (PF), Jarrett Allen (C)

Prediction: Facing Milwaukee’s top-ranked defense was a wake-up call for the Knicks. Going up against JB Bickerstaff’s scrappy Cavs will be another one. New York losing out on Donovan Mitchell has proved to be Cleveland’s gain because he has completely transformed this team. The Cavs are confident and have a home-court advantage.

The Knicks will get a much-improved showing from Barrett but will still struggle to keep up with Cleveland in another tough road loss.

Cleveland Cavaliers beat New York Knicks 115-110

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.