Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Of course we are getting Knicks and Cavaliers in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Storylines aside, the teams are remarkably similar.

Both are led by high-volume scoring point guards who showed up to their new teams ready to lead. The teams are also both extremely well-coached by Tom Thibodeau and J.B. Bickerstaff. And with No. 4 Cleveland facing No. 5 New York in the playoffs, it’s hard to find two teams more evenly matched.

Needless to say, it won’t be an easy series for either squad. The Knicks won the season series 3-1, but could be down a key player in Julius Randle. The Cavs, though not a great scoring team, had the No. 1 defense in the NBA.

Who wins this first round series and advances to the Conference Semis?

The schedule:

Game 1: Saturday, April 15, 6 p.m. (ESPN, MSG)
Game 2: Tuesday, April 18, 7:30 p.m. (TNT, MSG)
Game 3: Friday, April 21, 8:30 p.m. (ABC, MSG)
Game 4: Sunday, April 23, 1 p.m. (MSG)
Game 5: Wednesday, April 26, TBD
Game 6: Friday, April 28, TBD
Game 7: Sunday, April 30, TBD

Key matchup: Jalen Brunson and Donovan Mitchell, the two scoring guards who will decide this series. Brunson has been as advertised in the Big Apple since signing his max contract, averaging 24 points and 6.2 assists while shooting 41.3% from three. Mitchell also thrived in his first year in Cleveland and posted 28.3 points per contest.

Let’s also not forget that the Knicks almost acquired Mitchell, a New York native, from the Utah Jazz last summer. Could that fuel “Spida” enough to put his team’s offense on his back and let the Cavs’ top defense ensnare the Knicks in their web?

Brunson dropped a career-high 48 points as the Knicks won the dress rehearsal on March 31. Mitchell had 42 of his own that night, so count on him being ready for the main event.

X-factor: Obi Toppin. Julius Randle is recovering well from his sprained ankle but hasn’t yet been cleared for contact. Thus, we should assume he won’t be playing, but more about that later. In the meantime, the Brooklyn-born Toppin will keep starting at the 4.

The good news for the Knicks is that Toppin went from being a non-factor to stepping right up once Randle was injured. He averaged 24.3 points on 56.9% shooting over the season’s final four games, and even shot 41.5% from three-point land.

However, we should note three of those four games were against non-playoff teams. The other was against the Pelicans, who were eliminated from the play-in on Wednesday. These are games that matter and if Randle can’t go, Toppin will face his first real test as a regular starter.

Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), RJ Barrett (SG), Quentin Grimes (SF), Obi Toppin (PF), Mitchell Robinson (C).

Cavaliers predicted starters: Darius Garland (PG), Donovan Mitchell (SG), Cedi Osman (SF), Evan Mobley (PF), Jarrett Allen (C).

Prediction: No Randle means the Knicks don’t have a player who can consistently be a bully in the paint and also space the floor. This could be a problem against two great interior defenders in Mobley and Allen. Toppin staying hot suddenly seems a lot more urgent, doesn’t it?

Except look at the series schedule. Game 1 is Saturday April 15, and a potential Game 7 Sunday April 30. Neither team seems likely to win the series in a clean sweep.

Yet, what if Randle returned midseries? He’s already practicing and should be cleared for contact soon. Who’s to say he doesn’t come back in, say, Game 3 and is in absolute top form? If he and Brunson are in sync, New York could seize control of the series.

Furthermore, as good as the Cavs are, this is their first LeBron-free playoff season since 1998. They’re not unlike the Knicks of two years ago, who made the playoffs only to get a reality check. The postseason is a different beast. In this case, New York is fueled by a Randle return and fights through to the next round. Knicks in six.

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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.