Prior to their first meeting of the season on Dec. 29, the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks each looked as if they were trying to author the early chapter of a surprise NBA success story.
But the Cavaliers and Knicks will be trying to avoid slipping into a familiar and well-worn tale Friday night, when Cleveland is scheduled to host New York in a battle of slumping teams.
The Cavaliers and Knicks, who won the fewest and second-fewest games in the NBA, respectively, the previous two seasons, both enter Friday in the midst of losing streaks that have dropped them under .500 and threatened to undo their early-season progress.
The Cavaliers suffered their third straight defeat Tuesday, when they lost to the Utah Jazz, 117-87. The Knicks' losing streak reached four games Wednesday, when they fell to the visiting Brooklyn Nets, 116-109.
Prior to Tuesday's game, coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the struggling and injury-ridden Cavaliers needed to focus on achieving small victories. But the loss to the Jazz was the seventh in the last nine games for Cleveland as well as the ninth straight time it has been held under 100 points -- a span that began with a 95-86 loss to the Knicks.
With eight players sidelined Tuesday -- including the top three of the team's top six scorers in Colin Sexton, Kevin Love and Darius Garland -- Bickerstaff emphasized the long-term nature of what he is trying to instill with the Cavaliers following the second LeBron James era.
"There's an acceptance of the reality and the idea of trying to do what's best, no matter what," Bickerstaff said. "There's a bought-in group. They're trying to go out and do the right things, compete and play the right way. They're still bought into that."
The Knicks, who didn't score more than 89 points in the first three games of their losing streak, showed signs of breaking out of their offensive funk Wednesday when they scored 33 fourth-quarter points. It was the most prolific quarter for New York since a 34-point fourth quarter in a 112-100 win over the Jazz on Jan. 6.
But defense-minded head coach Tom Thibodeau was less pleased with the offense than he was frustrated with the Knicks' performance on defense. The 116 points by the undermanned Nets, who had just nine players in uniform following the blockbuster acquisition of James Harden from the Houston Rockets, marked the second-most points scored against New York this season.
"Disappointed that we could have played better defensively, yes, but more determined to get it right," Thibodeau said. "I like the fight we showed at the end, but it was too late. We got in too big of a hole. We have to get back to work."
The Cavaliers, who were part of the four-way Harden trade along with the Indiana Pacers, are likely to receive some reinforcements by Friday night. Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen, who were acquired by Cleveland from Brooklyn, should be in uniform against the Knicks.
--Field Level Media