CLEVELAND — The Knicks were in an odd position on Martin Luther King Day in two manners.
Firstly, the Knicks were playing on the holiday for the first time in their history outside New York City. Secondly, they came out winners in a rout.
Interim coach Mike Miller’s defense is back.
Amid a 1-8 stretch, the Knicks got strong production from their forward tandem Marcus Morris and Julius Randle, each scoring 19 points, an awakening from reserve guard Damyean Dotson (12 points) and another tenacious defensive performance in a 106-86 romp over the horrendous Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
After nearly upsetting the Sixers on Saturday, losing a 1-point lead in the final 30 seconds, the Knicks stole a road win in moving to 12-32 and holding John Beilein’s rebuilding Cavs to 34 percent shooting.
The Knicks held Philly to 90 points on Saturday and the Cavaliers entered the fourth quarter with just 64 as Miller continues to ride his veterans.
The Knicks pumped up the volume in the third, pounding Cleveland, 30-14 to lead 79-64 after three.
Morris secured a controversial four-point play when he banged in a 3-pointer and landed on Kevin Love’s foot. Morris crumpled to the court, and after a review, Love was given a flagrant foul. The Knicks forward sustained an ankle injury and is uncertain to play against the Lakers on Wednesday.
Morris’ free throw made it 66-54 but Randle missed inside on their gained possession.
The Knicks have to decide by the Feb. 6 trade deadline whether Morris and Randle are the two forwards they want to build around. If they don’t trade either, there will be pressure to sign Morris in July. Randle is locked up for three years.
Morris scored 13 of his points in the first half. The Knicks and Cavaliers exchanged the lead 10 times in the first half. After a deadlocked 26-26 first quarter, the Cavs held a 50-49 lead at halftime.
Some segment of Knicks fans on social media are crying for Miller to play those guys less and the young players more. But he rode his veterans again.
Miller started the same starting five as Saturday, going with the five 2019 free agents in Morris, Randle, Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, and Taj Gibson. Four of the five reached double figures. It was the team’s second straight game without RJ Barrett.
With the trade deadline approaching and many teams scouting and inquiring about the Knicks in recent weeks, the club clearly has a showcase mentality for the veterans rather than overplaying their young players. There’ll be plenty of time for that in February, March and April.
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