Jalen Brunson (Bill Moore photo)

The NBA playoffs are an unmistakably different animal than the regular season. Teams are preparing for a singular opponent. Scouting is meticulous and centrally focused on eliminating or minimizing opponents’ strengths, and exploiting their weaknesses. Nuanced and evident adjustments are made from game to game.  

Ultimately, exceptional players and notable performances determine outcomes of long series. So as of today, discount that the Knicks defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers three out of the four times they played each other during the regular season. The teams are evenly matched and their best-of-seven playoff series that begins this Saturday, with Game 1 in Cleveland tipping-off at 6 p.m., could surface as the most compelling of all the Round 1 matchups.

The storyline prominently discussed is the Knicks failing to acquire New York native Donovan Mitchell in a trade last summer, and the Cavaliers ultimately swooping in to obtain the four-time All-Star guard who was 10th in the NBA in scoring in this season at 28.5. But new scenarios will emerge as the series progresses.

The Cavaliers, which were 51-31 in the regular season, are the No. 4 seed in the East. The Knicks, winners of five of the final seven games, ended at 47-35, the franchise’s best record since going 54-28 in the 2012-13 campaign, and entering the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s No. 5 seed.

The Knicks’ prospects of winning four games over the next roughly two weeks against the Cavaliers will be determined by the performances of All-Star forward Julius Randle and point guard Jalen Brunson has been sensational in the lead role, especially as a first-time, full-time starter this season after leaving the Dallas Mavericks and signing with the Knicks as a free-agent last summer.

Randle, the Knicks’ leading scorer and rebounder at 25.1 and 10 rebounds, respectively, hasn’t played since March 29 after spraining his left ankle at Madison Square Garden against the Miami Heat.

“He did some [at practice]. Making steady progress. Taking it day-to-day,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau on Tuesday, non-committal on Randle’s return for Game 1. “So when he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go.”

Brunson, posting impressive stats of 24.2 points and 6.2 assists, missed the Knicks’ last three regular season games to rest a sprained right hand. Displaying mental and physical toughness all season, Brunson has declared he’s ready for the postseason. “Good, getting better. I'm able to do whatever I need to do,” he told reporters earlier this week.  

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