The Knicks (7-15) come to town tonight to face their Atlantic Division Rival, Sixers (14-8, 10-1 at home). New York is fresh off their loss last night to the Pistons. The home town kids are rested.
The magic number in the NBA for teams who make monumental and semi-sustainable turnarounds is between four and five rebuild years. Think: Raptors, Wizards, Thunder, Warriors, Lakers, Timberwolves, Sixers, Cavs. These teams were all able to string together 4 or 5 seasons where they won roughly 30 or less games per year and made lots of high draft picks. They weren’t all as...what’s the word? Motivated or intentional as the Sixers. Many of these bungled or semi-bungled their way into monster turn arounds.
The Knicks are coming. They have drafted in the top 9 of the lottery three times in the last 4 years and are looking at not only another major building block this June, but are also rumored to be favorites to land Kevin Durant, should he leave the Bay Area. The idea of Kristaps Porziņģis, Zion Williamson, and Kevin Durant playing together against the Sixers four times a year is at least a distant threat and looming possibility.
The nice thing about rooting for a team in one of the 2 or 3 markets larger than Philly is that you’re always rumored to be a landing spot for a superstar, no matter how miserable the team is. Jimmy Butler may have just denied wanting to play there himself, even though that was a rumor not long ago. Sam Hinkie had to acquire about 25 picks and hit grand slams on a couple just to one day get the team’s owners a meeting with LeBron James’ representatives. If Kevin Durant wanted to join a team that may not even win 30 games it might feel like life isn’t fair. But you don’t want things the easy way. As Allen Iverson said, this is no cupcake city.
I cover the Knicks as well as the Sixers. I can tell you from the inside, that there is a sense of superiority among fans regarding the proximal rival’s respective rebuilds. “I hate the way they did it. Ours is organic. Porziņģis got hurt. You never want to send that message to young kids. Our players are playing so hard, they pissed games away.” National broadcasters frequently offer sympathy for Sixer fans who had to suffer for “so many” tank years without noting that say, Knicks fans have experienced more losses than any other team since 2005; and not even on purpose! Does that not deserve more compassion?
I guess T.J. McConnell and Robert Covington had nothing to play for. I guess Brett Brown had nothing to prove. I guess if your former team President decided Joel Embiid, even if hurt was well worth the wait over Dante Exum, you get a bad rap for years to come.
I guess this one means a little bit more than when your average 7-12 team comes to town, doesn’t it?
On the one hand, if the Sixers lose tonight, there will be a small, distant part of me that thinks, “well that won’t help the Knicks get Zion.” But it’s no consolation. This one is bigger.
Some call these types of games a “schedule loss” for the Knicks. They’re road tripping, a lottery bound rebuild visiting a rested playoff team. That’s why the line is -12.
To say that Knicks Coach, David Fizdale, has not settled on a rotation yet would be a gross understatement. And he’s discussed his motives for being a “mad scientist” who tinkers with lineups and player combinations more than probably any other coach in the league so far.
It would appear to me they’re attempting to balance at times some overlapping and at times some conflicting goals like 1) winning games 2) keeping veterans happy 3) developing their youngest draft picks 4) showcasing their rehabilitation projects like Trey Burke or Emmanuel Mudiay and 5) tanking for a superstar this June and trying to clear space to sign Durant.
It has been item number 4 that has lead to more competitive play lately, with item number 3 that has taken a back seat recently. New York has actually won 3 of its last 4 games, lead by stellar guard play from Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, and undrafted rookie, Allonzo Trier. Bad teams with talented guards (as we recently saw vs. Cleveland and Brooklyn) can make life unexpectedly miserable for the Sixers sometimes.
About a month ago, it was second round center Mitchell Robinson playing more than Enes Kanter, and Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox were playing more than some older players. And very recently, over the last 5 or 6 games that’s shifted a bit and the results speak for themselves: 19 and 20 year olds, even promising ones, don’t tend to win many NBA games do they? Isn’t that why Kevin Durant wound up playing with both Russel Westbrook and James Harden once?
And Fizdale may have started to feel a bit competitive, so he turned to slightly older players more.
If I were the Knicks, I’d attempt to involve Joel Embiid in as many high screen and rolls as I could.
Everyone around this town is talking about the “soft-spots” in the Sixers defense post Robert Covington patrolling Wells, including many of our own writers at Liberty Ballers, and others as well:
Jimmy Butler's late-game heroics were great and all, but they were necessary because the Sixers got torched by mid-range jumpers and floaters in middle pick-and-rolls this weekend: https://t.co/SQAvv7KZby pic.twitter.com/xZ6XKF6QNF— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) November 28, 2018
Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway will have opportunities to hit some pull up 3’s or mid range jumpers and the Sixers may be happy to live with them.
Of course, Enes Kanter often has his way with the Sixers and the Sixers have generally allowed huge games to at least one front court player at the 4 or 5 this season.
How the Sixers choose to defend Kanter (will they double team him) and how they guard the high screen and how well the Knicks hit lower percentage long two’s will determine this one. Because the Knicks are road-tripping and likely tired, and because their coach has so many other goals to account for besides winning, I think the Sixers win this one easily. If they don’t, there will be plenty of flaws to discuss tomorrow.
Here are your projected starting lineups:
When: 7:00 pm EST
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
TV: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 the Fanatic
Vegas Line: Sixers -12