The Knicks start a stretch with rookie RJ Barrett sidelined, and their first test is the fearsome Sixers led by All-Star Ben Simmons.

The New York Knicks (11-31) continue their brief home stretch, hosting the division rival Philadelphia 76ers (27-16). New York enters the game on a two-game losing streak and losers of seven of their last eight games. Meanwhile, the Sixers enter the game on a two-game winning streak. The last time these two teams played was November 29th, where Philly came away with a 101-95 victory. 

It’s tough not to jump right into the injuries for both teams. Against Phoenix, R.J. Barrett suffered a pretty rough ankle sprain. Add another player to the mend for the Knicks. At the very least, Barrett is set to be out the next week, creating some intrigue around New York’s rotation for the interim.

As far as Barrett goes, perhaps some rest could be a good thing. His game has taken several different turns, from an early-season point guard and creator to an off-ball creator to largely an offensive swingman, attempting to get to the basket at every chance—all while averaging upwards 30 minutes a night. Getting some time away from the floor could help his focus on what he wants to be moving forward, which is key for the franchise.

On the Philadelphia side, Joel Embiid is set to be out for a while after undergoing surgery for a torn ligament in his hand. That injury, while removing the team’s best player, might’ve revived Al Horford, who has played well alongside Ben Simmons in Embiid’s absence.

In short, the 76ers are still really good. Lost in all the talk about Ben Simmons’ lack of shooting is just how good is he at everything else. An elite finisher, excellent creator, passer and defender, Simmons’ ability to do just a bit of everything allows Philadelphia to be as malleable as they can be around him. Tobias Harris is a solid shooter and offensive threat, while Horford is a strong defender and creator at the center position. Throw in Josh Richardson and his defense and the Sixers suffocate teams—currently ranking fifth in the league in defensive efficiency.

Either way, this is an interesting game for the Knicks. On one hand, Philly has the defensive pieces to suffocate two of New York’s avenues for offensive creation. Horford and Simmons should be able to entrap Randle when he attempts to score in the post, while Richardson could bother and pester Payton if head coach Brett Brown decides to give him the defensive assignment. 

That said, this is a Philadelphia team that plays more inside out than the usual team. The Sixers have decent shooters, but not high-level shooters, which leads to them relying on Harris for shooting, Horford from the mid-range and Simmons at the rim. Furkan Korkmaz is a solid shooter (37.6% on 4.2 attempts per game), but they will not rely on him to beat the Knicks. New York’s defense—usually terrible at defending threes—might catch a break in this one. 

Watch to Watch

  • The rotation: It’ll be a small stretch of games, but I’m curious to see how Mike Miller manages the rotation with Barrett out. The ideal starting lineup would be—Payton, Bullock, Morris, Randle, and Gibson, as it offers moderate spacing. Either way, removing Barrett for the interim takes a non-shooter out of the rotation and allows New York to play more two, maybe even three-shooting lineups.
  • Combatting Simmons and Horford’s passing: Per 36 minutes, Horford is averaging 4.5 assists, while Simmons gives you 8.5 assists per game. For their positions, both players are elite and could dice up New York’s defense. That would lead to the likes of James Ennis, Furkan Korkmaz, and other wings to find holes to cut and get to the basket for easy finishes. Horford can shoot a bit, so you can’t stay on top of him, but finding a way to keep Simmons in front and even doubling him would be wise.
  • Players off the bench: I’m curious to see how New York’s bench does in this game. Mitchell Robinson, who plays the majority of the minutes at center, could have a strong effect forcing Philadelphia’s bigs to think twice before shooting at the rim. Damyean Dotson can be an effective shooter and all-around player, while Kevin Knox can knock down threes and use his newfound craftiness off the ball to find some good looks. 

Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. ET from the Garden.


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