Kyrie Irving’s return has the Cleveland Cavaliers largely healthy and close to peak form nearing their most anticipated game of the season.
The New York Knicks, meanwhile, are holding their breath over Carmelo Anthony’s new injury.
Anthony’s availability for Wednesday night’s road game against the rolling Cavaliers is in question after he sprained his right ankle in the Knicks’ last outing.
New York (14-15) was outplayed down the stretch of Monday’s 107-99 home loss to Orlando that snapped a four-game win streak, but the greater concern lies over Anthony’s status. The star forward did play most of the fourth quarter after getting hurt late in the third, but attempted just two shots while clearly affected by the injury.
Anthony said following the game he plans to play Wednesday, though it was too early to know for sure.
"It’s hard to gauge right now," he said.
Cleveland (18-7) is heading toward full strength for its NBA Finals rematch at Golden State on Christmas night now that Irving is back from a fractured kneecap suffered in Game 1 of June’s championship series. The playmaking point guard scored 12 points in 17 minutes to help the Cavaliers extend their win streak to five games with Sunday’s 108-86 rout of lowly Philadelphia.
"Kind of been a long, long road, but finally getting out there with my teammates was a pleasure," said Irving, whose career average of 26.0 points versus the Knicks is his highest against any opponent.
Irving is the second key Cavalier to return in the past two weeks, with former Knick Iman Shumpert having played in three of the last four games after missing 21 with a wrist injury. His addition is a welcome one for a team that’s been increasingly dependent on LeBron James’ production.
James is averaging 29.2 points during the win streak and had 31 in a 90-84 road win over New York on Nov. 13, Cleveland’s fourth straight in the series and second this season.
The Knicks have scored 87 or less every time during that four-game skid. They could have trouble generating offense again with the Cavaliers having held opponents to averages of 84.8 points and 37.9 percent shooting over their last four.
New York has been getting contributions from sources other than Anthony. Lance Thomas was 9 of 9 from the field in matching a career high of 24 points against the Magic, his sixth straight game in double figures. Arron Afflalo averaged 23.0 points on 63.4 percent shooting over a three-game stretch prior to Monday’s four-point effort.
Both have been needed with Kristaps Porzingis going through a prolonged slump. The impressive rookie is 3 of 21 from 3-point range and shooting 29.0 percent overall in his last seven after finishing 3 of 12 against Orlando.
"My shot is feeling fine. I don’t know, it’s just not falling," he said. "Maybe I need to take my time a little more. Maybe I need to be focused a little more, maybe all those little things add up. Sooner or later they will start to fall again. I’m not too worried about that."
New York has won its last two road games but is facing a Cleveland team which is 12-1 at home.