After a tough loss to the Cavaliers yesterday and losses in three of their last four games, the Knicks travel to Philadelphia to face the Sixers in this season’s first back-to-back.

The New York Knicks (6-4) travel to the Wells Fargo Center to face the Philadelphia 76ers (8-2). This will be the second matchup of the season between these two teams, with the Knicks defeating the Sixers 112-99 on October 26th. The Knicks will be looking to rebound and start a new winning streak after falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.

It’s tough to make grand proclamations off 10 games, but it’s safe to say the Knicks are in a weird space at the moment. It starts with New York being bad on offense so far. Currently 27th in the league in defensive efficiency, the Knicks are still in the midst of figuring out how to balance an improved offensive group and get the best out of them defensively. The infusion of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, so far, has been a bit of a decline from Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock on defense. With both being veterans, it’s tough to see them improving on defense moving forward.

For all of their defensive concerns, the Knicks are doing everything right on offense. Currently, fourth in the league in offensive efficiency, Walker and Fournier have been solid additions. RJ Barrett has taken a step forward and Julius Randle is doing well, even if his outside shot isn’t falling. Along with Derrick Rose, Obi Toppin has given New York a jolt whenever he steps on the floor—sparking conversation about his current usage and whether that should increase in the near future. They aren’t in trouble, thanks to the offensive talent capable of turning on the jets and blowing teams out (See: Bucks, Milwaukee last Friday).

Thibodeau and staff will have to figure out how to fix that defense in order to get things right. That journey starts with a trip to Philadelphia to face the Sixers.

Amiss their own controversy, the Sixers are 8-2 and might be better than that. They currently lead the league in Offensive Rating, thanks to Joel Embiid (21.4 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 4.0 assists) serving as the epicenter of a four-out offense. Philadelphia currently sports four players shooting over 40% from the outside: Seth Curry, Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, and Georges Niang—with Embiid at 39% as well. Taking out a non-shooter and placing another shooter in his place has turned Philly’s offense up another level.

The defense, without Simmons, has fallen off a cliff. Once a top-10 defense, the Sixers are just 17th in the league in Defensive Rating, but that doesn’t stop them from being active. Players like Embiid and Matisse Thybulle lead the charge as All-Defensive Team-level players, with young guys like Isaiah Joe, Tyrese Maxey, and Paul Reed figuring it out on defense. They battle, but without one of the best defenders in the league, it’s tough to remain a top-10 defense.

Even after beating the Sixers before, this is another chance for the New York Knicks to solidify themselves as potential contenders in the Eastern Conference with a victory. This also offers another game for New York to take a step forward defensively. New York has good defenders, but balancing out their lack of defense on the wing with two elite rim protectors has been tough so far. Rookie guard Quentin Grimes played against Cleveland with an eye on fixing the defense, and it wouldn’t be shocking if he did again against Philadelphia.

Joel Embiid is out tonight against the Knicks, first reported as resting on the second night of a back-to-back. The Athletic’s Shams Charania later tweeted he’s entering health and safety protocols. Safe to say this is a break for the Knicks, removing a top 10 player in the league out of the lineup. With Embiid out, the idea is that Andre Drummond moves into the starting lineup with Paul Reed getting some extra run. While Reed should be an easier matchup for New York’s two-man center team, Drummond is a sneaky bad matchup for Robinson, as Drummond had success against Robinson and Noel in the past. Still, the lack of Embiid in this matchup should result in a victory for the Knicks.

What to Watch For 

R.J. Barrett vs. Matisse Thybulle: Thybulle should be everywhere, but the matchup versus Barrett is the one to keep an eye on the most. Barrett continues to shine—even in games where he seems “quiet” offensively, he’s ending up with 20 points. So a matchup against an all-world defender is an excellent test to see where he is on that development scale.

Which Offense Gets Hot First: These are two of the best offenses in the league in this early season, so whoever can get out, start launching threes, and score quicker has a chance to turn this game into a blowout. This leads into…

New York’s defense against Philadelphia’s shooting: Again, New York’s defense will have a tough task of defending Philadelphia’s shooting. The Sixers have a ton of shooters, led by Seth Curry’s incredible start to the season (currently shooting 50% from three). No Embiid will hamper Philadelphia on both sides of the ball, but the three-ball could make the matchup more even. The Knicks will have to avoid that.

Tyrese Maxey vs. New York’s point guards: Maxey, the second-year pro out of Kentucky, has started off well and it’s worth seeing how his game grows as he becomes more comfortable with his outside shooting. For the Knicks, both Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose are smart enough to work Maxey—veteran play, attacking him and using their craft to get some easy shots. However, Maxey could be up for the challenge and could extend both on the point of attack.


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