The Cavaliers, with a record of 7-7, might have their problems, but James provided a reminder of his potency with 23 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds.
Yet the Knicks, after years of losing basketball that numbed their fans and helped run off the star forward Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson, the former team president, proved they are fun and feisty again. While Anthony is adapting to his new life in Oklahoma City, the Knicks have moved on. Despite the defeat, they have won seven of their last 10 games following an 0-3 start, and are unafraid to poke the defending Eastern Conference champions.
Kristaps Porzingis is developing into a full-fledged star, regularly scoring upward of 30 points per game. He scored 20 Monday night and had seven rebounds.
The Knicks have had stars before, but this team seems to be developing a legitimate identity while providing Porzingis with effective help. Kanter, who scored 20 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, gives them an imposing force at center. Tim Hardaway Jr., who scored a team-high 28 and notched 10 rebounds, is a spry wing on the perimeter. The cast of journeyman and veterans surrounding them has contributed to some early success.
Ntilikina, however, is the pillar beside Porzingis. He does not possess Porzingis’s highlight-reel abilities or Twitter-friendly nickname. He remains young (19) and unproven, but there is early evidence that the franchise made the right choice by taking him with the eighth overall pick in the N.B.A. Draft in June.
James might not agree — he engaged the Knicks in another verbal tiff this weekend by saying he believed the club should have chosen Dennis Smith Jr., who went to Dallas, instead. James insisted later it was a jab at Jackson, not Ntilikina.
The two are acquainted now.
“That’s good,” Knicks Coach Jeff Hornacek said. “A young kid to stand up to the best player in the league.”
Ntilikina has yet to become an effective offensive player but he is a capable thief on the court, picking six steals against Cleveland, and has played steady defense. He has given the Knicks glimmers of the prospect they believe can one day be their starting point guard.
And thirteen games into a season that is supposed to be a bridge to what the franchise hopes is a bright future, there are, at least, signals that the Knicks have hope.
“The respect will be earned in the future,” Porzingis said. “With everybody.”
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of assists and rebounds that LeBron James had against the Knicks. He had 12 assists and 9 rebounds, not 12 rebounds and 9 assists.