After a 114-105 win against the Bulls on Saturday, the Sixers have won six straight games. They’re now 8-2 at the top of the Eastern Conference, with impressive wins against Atalanta, Portland, and two against Chicago, all while dealing with the ongoing Ben Simmons situation and a seriously depleted roster. Considering their circumstances, the Sixers couldn’t really be playing any better.
Now, they get to return home to Wells Fargo Center on Monday night to face the Knicks.
Tobias Harris, Isaiah Joe and Matisse Thybulle all remain out due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Simmons (personal reasons) and Grant Riller (recovering from left knee surgery) also remain out, while Danny Green (left hamstring tightness) is still questionable to return.
So, it’s going to be yet another shorthanded matchup for the Sixers. They do at least have the advantage of being more rested for Monday’s contest, though. The Knicks are on the second night of a back-to-back after losing 126-109 to the Cavaliers on Sunday. Kemba Walker was out due to rest, and at the time of writing this, there’s no new injury report from the Knicks to provide further updates on his availability for Monday.
This latest loss sends the Knicks to 6-4 and sixth place in the East, but they made some valuable roster upgrades in the offseason and present the depleted Sixers with plenty of challenges.
New York’s offense has been excellent so far. They rank fourth in offensive rating, showing clear signs of improvement after ranking just 22nd last season. Walker’s arrival boosts their pick-and-roll attack, playmaking, and pull-up creativity from deep. Outside of Immanuel Quickley, Walker’s off-the-bounce three-point threat is something they lacked last year. Evan Fournier is also helping as a complementary ball-handler and shooter, and is the team’s third-leading scorer with 15.3 points per game.
Some more internal development has helped as well, such as RJ Barrett taking a step forward. He’s averaging 17.9 points per game and has significantly upped his three-point attempts to a career-high 6.1 a game, making them at a 36.1 percent clip. To accompany his driving, his increased comfort with more pull-up threes and shots off movement is turning him into a more well-rounded scorer.
The Sixers have been using more three-guard lineups recently as they deal with a depleted roster, starting Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry and Shake Milton against Chicago on Saturday. They may want to bring more size into the starting lineup with someone like Furkan Korkmaz to help deal with Barrett’s physical scoring (of course, if Green returns, that would be ideal). Meanwhile, with the strong defensive play Maxey has been showcasing lately, he looks well prepared to compete against Walker.
Then there’s New York’s top scorer and 2020-21 All-NBA Second Team player Julius Randle, currently averaging 21.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game to open the new season. Containing Randle will be Philly’s biggest test on Monday.
Paul Reed got the start on Saturday, and could do again to offer more size against the Knicks’ frontcourt. Asking him to help guard Randle (and not foul too much) is a seriously tall order for Reed, but the Sixers are so limited on options right now without Simmons and Harris (who has guarded Randle pretty well in the past). Randle’s downhill scoring, strength and size will create problems for the Sixers’ remaining wing rotation, no matter who they put on him. How Reed, Georges Niang (who’s been excellent to start the size, and offers solid positioning and size on defense despite his limited quickness), and the rest of the Sixers’ wings handle Randle is the main challenge to focus on.
From Curry and Maxey as the starting backcourt, to Korkmaz, Niang and Andre Drummond off the bench, everyone is playing well for the Sixers. Joel Embiid is also coming into MVP-level form. After a slow start to the season as a scorer, he found his rhythm against the Bulls to score 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting. As good as Mitchell Robinson’s rim protection can be for the Knicks, he’ll likely struggle against Embiid’s strength and plethora of scoring tricks.
Even on the second night of a back-to-back, the Knicks are a bad matchup for this shorthanded Sixers team lacking their typical size and defense on the wing. We’ll soon see if the Sixers can rally yet again and ride their fantastic form to another improbable win.
When: 7:00 pm ET, November 8, 2021
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic