Preview: Knicks Travel Down I-95 to Face 76ers in Atlantic Division Battle

Knicks face off against stud center Joel Embiid for first time ever in the City of Brotherly Love

Photo: via Philly Mag

In the midst of the strange saga of D-Rose going AWOL, the Knicks will take on the 10–25 Philadelphia 76ers, as they try to get their season back on track.

After an uninspired and garbage showing Monday against the Pelicans in which they displayed no composure and no sense of urgency, the Knicks have a chance to redeem themselves this evening in a game that they should win. The Sixers sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and are clearly in the middle of yet another rebuilding attempt. Despite their futility over recent years, the Sixers boast very good front court talent and have shown the league that they don’t go down easy. Philly has already matched their win total from last season and look to finally be heading in the right direction as a franchise.

Joel Embiid, the third-overall pick from Kansas in the 2014 NBA draft has been excellent this season, leading the Sixers averaging 19.4 points and 7.3 rebounds. The big man has been marred by foot injuries for a couple of years, but finally debuted for Philly this season and he has not disappointed.

Embiid plays the game with swagger and has shown the ability to step out and hit long-range jumpers as well as play with his back to the basket like a traditional center. I believe Embiid is going to be a big time player in this league and is already a tough assignment for any defender. I envision KP guarding Embiid tonight since he is potent from many different areas of the floor. To me, Porzingis-Embiid is the most intriguing matchup tonight and I expect both of them to play well offensively and go at each other on both ends of the floor. KP must respect the fact that Embiid can shoot and make sure he doesn’t leave him open on the perimeter.

Alongside Embiid in the Philly frontcourt stands Nerlens Noel, who has proven to be a very good defensive player and a more than capable big man. Noel lacks the offensive skills that Embiid has, but is a great shot blocker and can impact a game in many different ways. The Knicks have had their issues making shots and have not excelled offensively, like we’ve seen earlier in the season. With Noel and Embiid down low, it is going to be difficult to get easy layups and points in the paint, which is why the Knicks need to capitalize on their open jumpers and free-throws when given the opportunity. If the jumpers aren’t falling, I expect guys like ‘Melo, KP, and company to draw fouls on the Philly big men and try to get them in early foul trouble.

Jahlil Okafor, the other big man of the bunch was a healthy inactive last game against the Nets and it is unclear if he will see minutes in this game. If he does, Okafor is someone the Knicks must keep an eye on, as he has shown incredible offensive talent and array of post moves that you don’t usually see from big men in today’s NBA. Coming off a very good rookie season, Okafor’s role has been diminished due to the emergence of Joel Embiid and is now the subject of trade talks. Despite his decline in production, he is still a threat to score down low and could pose a problem to the Knicks. I anticipate Kyle O’Quinn, Joakim Noah and Willy Hernangómez to see more minutes than usual in order to neutralize the three centers of the 76ers.

Photo: Jim McIsaac

On the perimeter, the Knicks have the clear advantage in this game (at least offensively). Even if D-Rose does not play, I expect the Knicks perimeter threats like ‘Melo, KP, Brandon Jennings, and even Ron Baker to play well and be able to score efficiently. As I said in previous articles, the offense to me is only 10 percent of the Knicks problems. I believe they can score enough to beat teams if their defense steps up.

The defense of the Knicks has been flat out bad and they have made average guards look like stars and have given up open shots like it’s nobody’s business. Robert Covington, Nik Stauskas, and Ersan Ilyasova are mediocre players at best but can all knock down the three if left unaccounted for. It is essential to press these guys when they have the ball and make sure they aren’t free and getting uncontested shots.

The defensive struggles aren’t even about one individual player. The Knicks as a unit need to buckle down and fire themselves up to lock down and give max effort when guarding the Sixers tonight. Aside from Courtney Lee, every single Knick has not been good enough on defense this season and that has to change immediately.

Philly presents a favorable matchup for the Knicks tonight due to the fact that they don’t have an explosive offensive player they can look to to lead. However, the trio of young centers the Sixers have is unlike any other in the NBA and they have proven they can all play. My one concern is these guys dominating the glass and kicking it out to the Sixer guards for open shots. This can be avoided if the big men do their job on the boards and the team plays passionate defense.

Tonight is as close to a must win game as you can get in the regular season for the Knicks. Even though the Sixers are improved this year, they still are a pretty bad team and the Knicks are much more talented than they are. A loss tonight would be absolutely demoralizing and would really call for some major changes. Even though the Knicks consistently disappoint us with their losses to teams they “should” beat, I believe they will win tonight.

Prediction: Knicks 105, Sixers, 94

Nick Scolaro, site writer

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