CLEVELAND — Courtney Lee reached the NBA Finals as a rookie with the Magic and has been searching for that kind of playoff success ever since. In the following eight years, Lee’s teams have won just one postseason series.
That’s what makes Lee marvel at what LeBron James has done. He’s led his teams to seven consecutive NBA Finals — that streak could reach eight as the Cavaliers are favored to represent the East in the championship series again this year.
“Just that on its own, it just shows you his MVP status,” Lee said. “Taking multiple teams, different teams to the NBA Finals, that’s not an easy task to do. He’s done it seven times in a row; won a few. Just speaks volumes to his excellence. Our job is to try and slow him down and stop that.”
The Knicks haven’t been to the playoffs for four consecutive years. That streak is expected to reach five. At this stage, they’ll settle for two wins in a row.
They face the Cavaliers Sunday with the Knicks riding high after getting their first win of the season, a 21-point victory over the Nets.
The Knicks (1-3) out-worked the Nets Friday, played with more urgency and for the first time they asserted themselves defensively. The Knicks held the Nets 35 points under their season average, were plus-21 on rebounds, plus-15 on offensive boards and plus-25 in second-chance points.
“It feels good that we got the first one and we did it with our defense,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “That’s something we can bring every night. We’re going to miss or make shots, but the defense has got to be there. If we can play this way the rest of the year defensively then we’re going to be able to get wins.”
Getting wins is something Porzingis and the Knicks haven’t done much of against the Cavaliers. The Knicks’ last win over Cleveland was Oct. 30, 2014 in James’ first home game after leaving Miami to return to Cleveland.
The string of 10 consecutive losses spans all eight games Porzingis has played against them. Porzingis has averaged 13.9 points and shot 41.3 percent versus Cleveland, while the Knicks have lost by 15 points per game.
“Cleveland’s good,” Porzingis said. “They have LeBron and that’s a lot of power already. It’s always tough to play against Cleveland. We haven’t had great games and I haven’t had great games playing against Cleveland. Hopefully we can play the same way against them and then we’ll have possibilities of winning.”
The Knicks usually see some old faces when they face the Cavaliers, but that’s the case more than ever this year. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, as well as Channing Frye are with the Cavaliers, who added former Knicks point guard Jose Calderon and Derrick Rose in the offseason.
They were the two point guards former Knicks president Phil Jackson brought in to lead the team and both disappointed.
Rose spent one season with the Knicks. He averaged 18 points and 4.4 assists in 64 games. But he required season-ending knee surgery and caused a major distraction when he left the team on the day of a game without notifying the Knicks and flew home to Chicago. Rose returned the following day.
Yet, there was a possibility that Rose could return to the Knicks after spending last season with them, but that changed after Jackson was fired.
The Knicks are a rebuilding team though. Rose, a former MVP, received interest from playoff teams including the Clippers and Bucks, and the Cavaliers and ended up signing a one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum of $2.1 million with Cleveland.
“It’s all about opportunity,” Lee said. “Cleveland was one of those teams he met with late in the stretch. I think it was Cleveland and Milwaukee. I guess he felt it was a better chance and better opportunity there to help his career. I’m happy for Derrick. Derrick’s a good friend of mine. So I’m happy for him.
“I talked to him a couple of times over the summer before he ended up signing. He was in good spirits. He just wants to win. I guess he felt Cleveland was the best place for him to be.”