Despite their two rookies doubtful, the Knicks open the Garden to the Sixers in the second game of the regular season.
The New York Knicks (0-1) will attempt to win their first game in the 2020–21 season with their home-opener on Saturday night against the Philadelphia 76ers (1-0) at 7:30 p.m. ET. This is a battle of two teams expected to be at opposite ends of the league, as New York is in a full rebuild, while the Sixers has expectations to finish near the top of the Eastern Conference.
In the Knicks’ first game, it was a tale of two halves as they led 66-61 after the first two quarters only to lose the game by 14, 121-107. The Sixers held off the Wizards to win their first game of the season by six, 113-107.
It’ll be a much different Sixers team than the one we saw in 2020, as they significantly overhauled the roster, front office, and coaching staff. In the offseason, the Sixers traded Al Horford and Josh Richardson and brought in Danny Green, Seth Curry, and Dwight Howard. Acquiring shooters was a necessity for Philadelphia, as not surrounding All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid with many perimeter options over the past few seasons has been the Atlantic Division club’s downfall.
The mastermind behind all these offseason moves has been newly hired President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey. Morey was team president for the Houston Rockets from 2007 through 2020 before moving onto Philadelphia this past summer. Additionally, the Sixers fired head coach Brett Brown after getting swept in the bubble by the Boston Celtics. Shortly after that, they hired Doc Rivers, who departed the Los Angeles Clippers.
Similar to recent seasons, Philadelphia’s ceiling this year will hinge on its role players. On Wednesday against the Wizards, sixth man guard Shake Milton scored 19 points on 6-of-11 from the field, 2-for-4 from beyond the arc. Seth Curry also chipped into the winning effort with 13 points on 4-for-8 from the field. Tobias Harris and Danny Green each had disappointing games, with Harris scoring just 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting, and Green scoring two points on 1-of-6 shooting. However, if at least two of these four players can produce each game, then the Sixers can be a very good team.
Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s game between the Knicks and the Sixers.
A New RJ Barrett
Second-year guard R.J. Barrett is expected to make a huge jump in 2020–21 after failing to make either of the All-Rookie teams in 2019–20. He got off to a great start to the season with a 26-point, eight-rebound, and five-assist performance in Wednesday’s game against the Pacers.
Most importantly, it was an extremely efficient game for Barrett, who shot 11-for-15 from the field, including 3-of-3 from downtown. He shot 1-of-2 in his only trip to the free throw line. After shooting 40.2% from the field, 32.0% from three, and 61.4% from the line last season, all eyes are on Barrett’s efficiency.
Through preseason and the one regular-season game, Barrett has looked like a completely different player from last season. His entire game looks quicker and more composed. His passing, which was solid last season, appears to have gotten even better. The Sixers are going to be a good defensive team this season and will present a great test for Barrett with players such as Ben Simmons and Danny Green.
The question going into this game will be if Barrett can have another efficient game against another very good opponent. If he does perform at a high level once again, it’ll be extremely exciting for all Knicks fans.
Mitchell Robinson vs. Joel Embiid
Third-year center Mitchell Robinson is in a crucial season for his development. The 22-year-old has shown spurts of brilliance over the past two seasons but has been held back by his lack of discipline. Robinson’s aggressiveness caused him to be in foul trouble seemingly almost every single game the last two seasons.
Through preseason and the first regular-season game, it seems like nothing has changed. Robinson picked up two quick fouls early against the Pacers and, as a result, was sent to the bench. However, the second half was a lot better, as Robinson was staying on his feet more on defense rather than trying to make an insane block on every single play. As the season goes on, this is something to look for with Robinson.
Against the Sixers, Robinson will have one of the biggest tests you can possibly have against Joel Embiid. Embiid averaged 23.9 points per game and 11.6 rebounds per game last season and put up 29 points and 14 rebounds in the Sixers’ first game of the season. It’s not only the skill differential that will make it tough for Robinson, but also the size differential. At 280 pounds, Embid presents a massive mismatch for the 240-pound Robinson. If Robinson can have a good game Saturday night, it will be a great sign for him.
A Quick(ley) Recovery?
After a phenomenal preseason, Immanuel Quickley earned a spot in the rotation as the backup point guard. He didn’t disappoint either, as Quickley was a team-high +5 in 12 first-half minutes. The Knicks also led 66-61 at halftime due to outscoring the Pacers 33-26 in the second quarter, many of which were minutes Quickley played.
Unfortunately, Quickley got “hip-checked” by Myles Turner leading to a hip-pointer injury that kept him out the rest of the game. Now, he’s doubtful for Saturday’s game.
Quickley’s presence is extremely important to this Knicks team. The fact that he’s a threat to shoot the three at the point guard position opens up the entire floor for the rest of the offense. The spacing is so much better, and it’s not a coincidence that the Knicks only scored 41 points in the second half while he was out.
If Quickley is unable to play in this game, expect Frank Ntilkina to get some minutes as the backup point guard. Also, expect R.J. Barrett to possibly see some time handling the ball. That being said, the Knicks will be at a major disadvantage without Quickley healthy on Saturday night.
Furthermore, Knicks rookie and eighth overall pick Obi Toppin is also doubtful for Saturday with a sore right calf, according to the team. Guard Austin Rivers (sore groin) and center Omari Spellman (sore right knee) are out.