Julius Randle remains questionable for the New York Knicks for Saturday’s Game 1 of their first-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The All-Star forward sprained his left ankle on March 29 in the Knicks’ 101-92 win over the Miami Heat.
The Knicks decided to shut him down in their remaining five games despite still fighting for a playoff spot. The move worked brilliantly as New York clinched a postseason berth and also allowed Randle roughly two weeks to heal.
Randle’s availability and how the injury has affected him could be the deciding factor in this series. He is averaging 25.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG and 4.1 APG in 77 games. “Don Julio” is also hitting 45.9% of his shots, including 34.3% from behind the arc.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has built the offense around Julius Randle. He is the fulcrum of everything the Knicks do, especially on the offensive end.
Most Improved Player candidate Jalen Brunson often takes charge in late-game situations, but it’s been Randle who carries the brunt of the offense.
New York is 3-2 without their versatile power forward. They need him to be at his best to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Julius Randle versus Evan Mobley will be a crucial matchup in this series
The matchup that could determine the series between the New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers is between Julius Randle and Evan Mobley.
Randle is averaging 23.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists in three games against the Cavs. “Don Julio” makes 43.4% of his shots, including 40.9% from behind the arc versus Cleveland’s highly-touted defense.
Tasked with tracking and defending Julius Randle will be Mobley, one of the NBA’s best defenders. Cleveland’s lanky power forward has built a strong case to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. If he does so, he will become the youngest to accomplish the feat.
Evan Mobley leads the NBA in Defensive Win Shares and Defensive Real Plus/Minus. He is adept around the perimeter, where Thibodeau often allows Randle to operate.
Mobley (21.7%) is second only to the Brooklyn Nets’ Nic Claxton (24.5%) in time spent guarding the perimeter. Julius Randle’s not going to get much away from the rim.
Randle likes to isolate himself from behind the arc where he can choose to drive or shoot over opponents. Evan Mobley can shut down his drives and limit his three-pointers. Cleveland’s defensive whiz leads the NBA in three-pointers contested.
If Randle gets by Mobley, waiting for him at the rim will be Jarrett Allen. The Cavaliers’ starting center may not have Mobley’s defensive instincts, but Allen relishes the challenge of protecting the paint.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will also have to contend with Jalen Brunson, Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett. But if they can contain or limit Randle, they will have a good chance of moving on to the semifinals.
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