After a disastrous game against the Atlanta Hawks, the New York Knicks look to get back to .500 against a hampered Philadelphia 76ers squad.

The New York Knicks (3-4) travel to the Wells Fargo Center tonight to face the Philadelphia 76ers (4-5). Both teams are looking to shake off recent losses—the Knicks lost to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday while the 76ers’ fell to the Washington Wizards. This is the first matchup of the season between these two teams; they split the last season’s series two games apiece.

A Quick Glance

The New York Knicks are in familiar territory after blowing a 23-point on Wednesday in a matter of minutes; they lost 112-99 in disappointing fashion. In many ways, it seems like they’re right back to where they were last season. Head coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t seem interested in playing a normal rotation, settling for hockey-style substitutions and favoring veterans over younger talent, regardless of play.

In New York’s last game against the Hawks, the starters kept it even in the first before the reserves won the second quarter. When the reserves hit the bench in the second half, New York’s starters blew the lead despite numerous unsustained comeback attempts by the bench units. The Knicks are already in midseason form.

The defense, currently 15th in the league in efficiency, looks questionable. Both Trae Young and Dejounte Murray aggressively attacked New York—much the way Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell did the game before—leading to a long night.

Evan Fournier is an issue defensively; the Knicks cannot start him much longer, especially with Immanuel Quickley playing well and Quentin Grimes (knee) back.

Can the Knicks avoid the same fate against the Philadelphia 76ers?

Know Thy Opponent

With the additions of De’Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker this offseason, the Philadelphia 76ers were viewed as a potential title contender. Even with early regular season losses to Boston and Milwaukee, the Sixers had as much talent on the roster as anyone in the league. Then, the injuries started piling up.

It started with Joel Embiid. The superstar center has already missed time with knee issues and is currently questionable with a non-COVID illness. Then, things got worse with James Harden suffering a tendon strain on his right foot. The star guard will be sidelined at least one month. For the second straight season, Philadelphia is going to have to balance the regular season schedule with at least one of their stars on the mend.

Ultimately, this means a few things for Philadelphia. The first is going small, specifically playing Tucker at the starting center position and shifting Melton into the starting lineup. Most importantly, this means a sizable chunk of the offense will go to Tyrese Maxey who is off to a hot start. He’s averaging 24.2 points, 3.4 assists and shooting 46.8% from the outside. The former Kentucky product looks like he took a leap and could contend for an all-star position this year, especially if he can keep the Sixers afloat with Harden out.

Ultimately, Philadelphia will have to work with the sum of its parts with scoring coming from Maxey and Tobias Harris, and defense coming from Melton, Tucker, and Matisse Thybulle, who is also questionable tonight. The Sixers have the pieces to contend with most teams, but it’ll be those final moments, where teams can lean and rely on their star players, that could hurt them—whether it be against the Knicks or teams with actual stars.

Keys to the Game

Attack the glass and Philadelphia’s lack of size: Outside of Tucker, Philadelphia will play Paul Reed and Montrez Harrell in the frontcourt. Tucker stands at 6-foot-6, while Reed and Harrell are 6-foot-8. Harrell has gotten off to a poor start, yet Sixers head coach Doc Rivers continues to play him over the more talented Reed, whose combination of size and speed could make him an intriguing defensive matchup for Julius Randle.

With Embiid hampered, New York should be able to get aggressive on the glass. Mitchell Robinson, standing at seven-foot-one, is a prime candidate for a big game. The same goes for the seven-foot-one Isaiah Hartenstein, who, in total, should offer the Knicks 48 minutes of advantage down low. Both players should be in position for double-digit rebounds, and that means New York should be able to control the game and stifle Philadelphia.

An RJ Barrett “get right” game? RJ Barrett has struggled to start the season, but with Philadelphia missing their top players, this feels like a game to get everything going. Not only should Barrett get some good looks slashing and attacking the paint, but his secondary playmaking could be huge in for New York’s offense. Both De’Anthony Melton and Matisse Thybulle could bother Barrett, but if he drives aggressively it could force Philadelphia into foul trouble.

One mistake the Knicks should avoid, however, is sticking Barrett on Tyrese Maxey. Barrett is a fine defender, but crafty guards often give Barrett trouble. It’s best to avoid that matchup early, moving Barrett on either Melton or Tobias Harris, who mostly operates on the perimeter. Either way, this would be an excellent game for Barrett to turn his season around with an effective offensive performance.

Immanuel Quickley on both sides of the ball: Immanuel Quickley is good, real good. The Knicks should be playing him 30 minutes a night. Against a smaller Philadelphia team especially, he could help New York. Offensively, Quickley as the second ball-handler alongside Brunson is a potential antedote against the Thybulle-Melton combination on defense, if he can find open shooters.

Defensively, Quickley may also be the best matchup against Maxey, not only because of familiarity as former Kentucky teammates, but his basketball IQ and size allows Quickley to keep in front of Maxey. Slowing down Maxey would stifle Philadelphia’s offense, which in turn, should generate more points for the Knicks in transition. A lineup of Brunson, Quickley, Barrett, Obi Toppin, and Robinson could push New York over the edge.

Calling this a must-win seven games into the season is tough, but New York has several harder games ahead—Boston and Minnesota back to back, then Brooklyn, Detroit, Oklahoma City, Utah, Denver, Golden State and Phoenix all on the horizon before Thanksgiving. The Knicks have to navigate this stretch to break from the middle of the pack.

New York must look at this game against a hampered Philly team as the start of something. A win could lead to positive momentum while a loss begs an answer to the question: “Is this the right path?” The Knicks have to get going quickly, because the games will only get tougher in a packed Eastern Conference.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

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