The 7-2 Philadelphia 76ers are receiving a ton of attention from the national media and casual NBA fan as of late. They sit atop the Atlantic Division, rank first in the league in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and point differential, and own a six game winning streak, in which they've outscored their opponents by an average of 22 points per game.
Despite the impressive superlatives, the Sixers have not faced impressive competition since their opening night loss to the Blazers in the Rose Garden. They've played decent teams like the Jazz and Suns on the road, and a tough Pacers team – without Danny Granger – but haven't played a "difficult game" since Portland. That should change tonight when they travel to Madison Square Garden to face division foe, the Knicks of New York.
Some may argue that the Knicks themselves don't present much of a test for the Sixers, who have been steamrolling opponents as of late, and that may be the case. However; tonight's game presents new challenges the Sixers have yet to face this season. First, Carmelo Anthony is the first "superstar" the Sixers will have to defend. Secondly, the Sixers will be playing their third game in three nights – uncharted territory for NBA players – so who knows how their bodies will react. And lastly, I think the Knicks will be fired up to get a shot at the suddenly darling Sixers, and you know MSG will be rockin' for this game.
So far this season the Knicks have been a very mediocre team who don't excel in any one area. They're below average in assist ratio, offensive rebound rate, defensive rebound rate, total rebound rate and effective field goal percentage. And they're only slightly above average in turnover ratio (10th), true shooting percentage (14th), offensive efficiency (13th) and defensive efficiency (14th).
Outside of Carmelo and Amar'e the Knicks have a difficult time scoring the basketball. Tyson Chandler averages 12 per game and rookie Iman Shumpert has averaged 13.2 in 5 games (2 starts) this season. Other than that, yikes. Landry Fields and Toney Douglas were supposed to take a step forward this season, but they've both been atrocious, accumulating PERs of 9.8 and 8.0 respectively. Both are shooting under 43 percent from the field.
- Carmelo Anthony is 20-56 (36%), averaging 19 points and 3 turnovers in his last three games against Andre Iguodala and co.
- The Knicks bench averages 20 points per game. The Sixers bench (#NightShift) averages 45 points per game.
- The Sixers (six) and Knicks (three) both bring winning streaks into tonight's contest.
- The Knicks 2-2 at home this season, losing to both the lowly Raptors and Bobcats.
- Melo leads the Knicks (and league) in fourth quarter scoring with 10.1 per game. The next highest Knick averages 3.3.
- The Knicks have played the easiest schedule in the league thus far, with an opponent winning percentage of .294.
They way I look at it, there's only three ways the Knicks can win this game. One, the third game in three nights paired with raucous MSG crowd is too much for the Sixers to handle. Two, the Knicks starters build insurmountable leads in the first and third quarters. And three, the Knicks get a huge breakout performance from one of their role players i.e. Landry Fields, Toney Douglas, etc.
On paper, the Sixers should win this game and extend their winning streak to seven. Andre Iguodala should be able to slow down Carmelo Anthony, and the "Night Shift" should be able to abuse the Knicks league-worst bench of Josh Harrellson, Bill Walker, Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby. But when division rivals square off in Madison Square Garden, with one playing their third game in three nights, expect the unexpected. It also sounds like the Sixers may be without starting center, Spencer Hawes – whose vast improvement is a big part of the Sixers early-season success – with a lower back strain.
I'm excited to see how the Sixers respond to success. Will they continue their warpath of the NBA, whether it's against good teams, bad teams, at home or on the road? Will they be able to win a close game in a hostile environment without a true "closer" – something they've struggled with in previous seasons? Will their early season dominance be proven fraudulent as they're finally exposed by a admirable opponent? Whatever happens, we should know a lot more about the 2011-2012 Sixers by the end of the night, and I can't wait.
Against the Spread: Sixers +4