Darius Garland Issues Statement on Josh Hart Ahead of Cavaliers Showdown with Knicks

Darius Garland Cleveland Cavaliers

Getty Darius Garland of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the spirit of baseball resuming play, it’s only fair to say that the Cleveland Cavaliers are rounding third, sprinting fast toward the playoffs. Last week, the Cavaliers secured the franchise’s first playoff berth in five years by defeating the Houston Rockets.

With five games left, Cleveland will face just one more opponent with a winning record this season, the New York Knicks. The Knicks and Cavs have been conference-standing mates for much of the season; Cleveland currently sits at No. 4 while New York is at No. 5.

If things hold, the Cavs will play the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.

Ahead of the crucial matchup Friday, Cavs guard Darius Garland highlighted the play of Knicks wing Josh Hart.

“He’s just an energy guy,” Garland said, per the Cavaliers’ official YouTube channel. “Plays all 48 minutes really hard and he’s very unpredictable. I mean, one day he can get it going and the other day he’s just like a defensive stopper. I mean, he’s a really good player, though.”

Hart was a midseason pickup for New York, coming over from the Portland Trailblazers ahead of the trade deadline last month. He’s played well since coming to the Big Apple, averaging 11.0 points per game on .622/.568/.800 shooting splits.

JB Bickerstaff Praises Evan Mobley Before Cavaliers-Knicks

Hart is also a menace on the defensive end, using his 6’5 frame to its fullest extent.

But the Cavaliers have a defensive star of their own in sophomore Evan Mobley.

“He is one of the most impactful defensive players that’s not limited to a single thing,” head coach JB Bickerstaff told reporters when asked to make Mobley’s Defensive Player of the Year case. “He’s not just an elite one-on-one defender, he’s not just an elite pick and roll defender, he’s not just an elite rim protector, he has the versatility to guard positions one through five. And he’s been that on the team that’s been the number one defense for the majority of the year. Night by night his matchup changes, his responsibilities don’t change, though. And, again, when you look at the productivity, but again, where our team has stood, I think it’s difficult not to give the honor.”

Mobley’s impact on the defensive end can’t be undersold. In 2020-21, the Cavaliers boasted the league’s fifth-worst defense; one year later (Mobley’s first with the Cavs), the team’s defensive rating blossomed to the NBA’s fifth-best.

He leads the league in defensive win shares and is also on pace to have a top-five defensive rating.

Cavaliers Hoping to Avoid Knicks in Playoffs

The Cavs’ matchup with the Knicks will be an excellent litmus test for a possible playoff series for both sides. But according to Chris Fedor of cleveland.com, the Cavaliers are eyeing a first-round showdown, not against the Knicks, but against their crosstown rival.

“No one inside the organization would say this publicly — and they shouldn’t. But multiple people I’ve spoken to recently are privately hoping for a Brooklyn (Nets) matchup,” Fedor reported.

Fedor explained that the Nets’ trade deadline implosion has left them vulnerable, a key reason for the Cavs’ hope to see them in the playoffs.

“Brooklyn was 32-20 at the time it dealt Kyrie Irving — a move that preceded Kevin Durant’s departure. While the Nets haven’t completely imploded since those two megadeals, their organizational ceiling has lowered considerably, and they no longer pose the same challenge in a seven-game series. The last time they looked — and consistently played — like a playoff-caliber team was when Irving and Durant were both there. The Nets are 7-11 over the last month-plus without those two superstars. They also have the most inexperienced coach of the potential first-round foes,” Fedor completed.

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