Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks break bread with the Philadelphia 76ers for the first game on the NBA’s Christmas slate.
For the second year in a row, the Knicks will play in the NBA’s Christmas Day matinee game, this time around it’s the Sixers (14–18) making the trip to the Garden to face New York (17–15). This is the Knickerbockers’ first meeting with Philly this year, one of four times they’ll match up with each other in the regular season.
Having lost nine of their last ten, the struggling 76ers have fallen out of the playoff field and are currently three games behind the Knicks, who hold the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. As for New York, they’ve had a nice recent stretch of games, winning five of their last seven and bringing themselves within 1.5 games of the fourth seed.
Here are a few things to watch for in the first game of today’s Christmas matchups:
Home Sweet Home
With a long stretch of road games coming up on the schedule for New York, today’s Christmas day tilt is a quick pit stop at home, where the Knicks have played their best basketball. They’re currently 15-5 in the Garden, with those 15 wins tying the Spurs for most home wins in the league. New York has taken advantage of their home-heavy schedule thus far, but something’s going to have to change with their play on the road if the playoffs are an option, as they hold a weak record of 2-10 in games away from home.
Beasley’s Hot Streak
It’s hard to talk about the Knicks right now without talking about the Walking Bucket.
Following a 30-point performance against OKC last week, Michael Beasley had 32 points versus Boston, receiving MVP chants and officially edging himself into Knicks folklore. Beas cooled off last game against Detroit with a quiet six point outing but has been on a hot streak in recent games, picking up on scoring for New York when they’re missing a player or just can’t score that night, and it has resulted in a few extra wins for the Knicks that they wouldn’t have picked up without the Walking Bucket on their side.
Watch for Beasley to drop a Christmas miracle 50 piece today. You heard it here first.
Getting KP Going
After missing a few games due to ankle issues, and scoring only a single point against the Celtics in his return, KP dropped a cool 29 points against Detroit on Thursday. Hopefully this is a sign that he’s back into his groove after injury troubles.
I’d like to see Kristaps get involved early against Philly. Get the ball at the elbow go to work. If that doesn’t work out, then it might be best to run the offense through another option, like Beasley, and try to get KP some easy looks on jump shots off drive-and-kicks.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Sixers throw at KP on defense. The matchup with Embiid is certainly the most anticipated (although Joel is questionable, but we’ll probably see mixture of him, Dario Saric, and even Ben Simmons switched around on him to see what’s most effective.
Matching Up With Simmons
Whether the Knicks defense can contain Ben Simmons or not may ultimately decide this game. The 6’10” rookie* point guard presents a matchup disadvantage for nearly every team he plays against, and it’ll be no different against New York.
Hornacek will likely throw a mixture of defenders at Simmons, but Ntilikina seems to be the best option on paper. At 6’5″ tall with a 7’0″ wingspan, Frank is the best equipped Knick to guard Simmons for the majority of the game. There won’t be much New York can do to stop him if he’s on, but the right defensive matchups can be make or break the game against the Sixers.
Eastern Conference Standings
Following a drop out of the playoff picture, the Knicks have slowly made their way back into the top eight in the East. Should they win today and the Wizards lose to Boston, New York will move up to the sixth spot in the conference, only half a game out from the fourth seed in a tight Eastern Conference.
Tip-off for today’s game is set for 12:00 p.m. EST on ESPN and MSG Network. Keep in touch on Twitter with @TheKnicksWall! Merry Christmas to those celebrating!
UPDATE: 11:30 a.m. EST.
Philly’s Joel Embiid is active today, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Kyle O’Quinn (illness) will be active, along with Joakim Noah.