Despite shoddy seasons, the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers still have a chance to make the playoffs in the inferior Eastern Conference.
A manageable stretch in the schedule could make things much easier for the Knicks, while the Cavaliers will soon be taking on many of the league’s top teams.
New York seeks just its third streak of at least three wins Saturday night at Cleveland.
The Knicks (23-40) sit in 11th place and one game behind the Cavaliers, while both – along with Detroit – are chasing Atlanta for the conference’s final playoff spot.
New York’s 108-81 home win over Utah on Friday was its second in a row after the team had dropped 13 of 15. Carmelo Anthony tallied 18 of his 29 points in a 39-point first quarter for the Knicks, who scored 38 in the first 12 minutes in Wednesday’s win at Minnesota.
The Knicks have totaled just 19 turnovers over the last two games after averaging 15.0 during a seven-game skid. They also recorded 24 assists in each of the last two games after totaling 17 or fewer in each of their previous four.
"Last two games is, we had no choice," coach Mike Woodson said. "Time is somewhat running out and every game is important."
Leaving out the Knicks’ March 19 contest against Indiana, eight of their next nine opponents have a combined record of 115-257. That slate includes two games with Philadelphia – losers of 15 straight – and another meeting with the Cavaliers on March 23.
Cleveland (24-39) is trying to end a three-game skid after a 101-92 loss at Charlotte on Friday. The Cavaliers were 3 of 17 from beyond the arc and Kyrie Irving missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.
Irving, who scored 13, had been averaging 25.8 points over his last five games while hitting 12 of 29 3-point attempts (41.4 percent).
"We have a chance and a shot, so why not? Why not us?" said Dion Waiters, who scored 19 in his second game back after being sidelined for seven contests with a hyperextended left knee. "We’ve got to have a sense of urgency. The clock is ticking. The games are running out. Making the playoffs is right there and we’ve got a great opportunity."
The Cavaliers’ upcoming schedule won’t do them any favors.
After playing New York, they will visit Phoenix, Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers, followed by home tilts with Miami, Oklahoma City and Houston. Those six teams are all at least 11 games above .500.
Cleveland’s playoff chances will likely be closely linked to Irving’s shooting hand. The Cavaliers are 20-20 when he shoots at least 40.0 percent from the field compared to a 3-17 record when he fails to hit that mark.
Irving is averaging 28.3 points over his last seven games against the Knicks, though New York has won five of those matchups. The Knicks took a 117-86 home victory on Jan. 30 after losing 109-94 in Cleveland on Dec. 10.
Anthony is scoring 29.7 points per game during his last three meetings with the Cavaliers.