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The Process takes Manhattan, a Christmas special: Sixers seek 8th straight win at MSG vs. Knicks

Can anyone slow down the James Harden-Joel Embiid two-man game?

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Philadelphia 76ers v New York Knicks Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Well now, this game gets a little extra juice, doesn’t it?

Last summer, Sixers fans were delighted when we learned the team finally got a Christmas Day game, after being shunned since 2019 (by those who truly do hate the Process). But they were a bit disappointed with the opponent, the lowly New York Knicks, whose ubiquitous presence on the X-Mas slate is apparently as set in stone as the Detroit Lions on Turkey Day.

If there isn’t a good game on TV this holiday season, I might have to actually listen to my Uncle Tommy talk about his basement flood or his feelings on Elon Musk again. Oh no!

There were even a few fans in my own social network who thought first of that looming Dec. 25 matchup first when Knicks’ Prez Leon Rose decided R.J. Barrett and Quentin Grimes were too valuable to part with in a Donovan Mitchell blockbuster. Oh, the game won’t be great but hopefully we can load manage on X-mas now, was a sentiment I’ve actually heard more than once.

But suddenly there’s a bit more juice to this contest! The Knicks had rattled off eight wins in a row, the longest streak in the league at the time, before dropping two in a row to the Raptors and Bulls. According to Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, the Atlantic Division rival was playing as well as any team in the league at the time:

Led by possible All-Star (unless Tobias Harris sneaks in ahead of him because defense matters to some voting coaches) and local hero, Jalen Brunson, whose decision to leave Dallas for New York pulled both the Mavs from the top and Knicks from the bottom towards mediocrity like a magnet, the blue and orange have finally cooled off a tad.

And it’s the Sixers looking for an eighth win in a row now... and to keep pace with that other New York City team, the surging Nets, who just won eight in a row themselves. Crazy 8’s. So this one figures to be hotly contested. The Garden faithful are some of the best fans in the NBA and really do turn out to support their long-suffering tank-averse squad. The Sixers, of course, would love to keep their streak chugging, forcing national pundits who hate the process to discuss how well they’re playing. Folks have been reluctant to admit Joel Embiid is an MVP favorite as well, but it’s only a matter of time now before they face him again.

We expect Philly fans to storm at least a few sections of the Garden on Christmas. It’s been awhile since I’ve heard a good “Trust the Process,” chant but some “MVPs” will suffice as well. If you’re on the fence, I encourage you to go and cheer on your boys.

According to our friends at DraftKings, the surging Sixers are small -2.5 favorites. The early money has come pouring in on the Clap Your Hands Crew to cover that spread (74 percent of bets so far at VSIN). Philly is 5-1 against the spread in their last six contests. Not the worst bet if you don’t think Mitchell Robinson can handle the potential best player in the NBA.

Maxey isn’t back yet and that stinks, but he may be close.

When the superior Kentucky product (sorry Immanuel Quickley) went down with a foot injury, the Sixers plugged De’Anthony Melton into their starting lineup. The five-man combo of Harden, Embiid, Melton, Tobias Harris, and P.J. Tucker, the group we figure to log some big minutes vs. the Knicks, has played 224 possessions on the year.

They’re a stellar +20.6 differential with a 96th percentile offensive rating (121.1) and a 99th percentile defensive rating (100.6). They’ve been so good on this seven-game home stand some folks were even asking Doc Rivers if he’d consider bringing Maxey off the bench when No. 0 finally returns.

You can read Doc’s surprising answer to that idea here.

On the year the Sixers have the 15th-ranked offense (112.4 points per 100 possessions), and second-rated defense (108.3). Blue and Orange has the 10th-best offense (113.8) and ninth-best defense (111.3). Intriguingly, it’s the 18-15 Knicks, not Philadelphia, who has a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense; a seemingly relevant barometer top teams shoot for. But perhaps when the Texas Tornado, Tyrese returns, the Sixers can gain some ground on O.

The Knicks beat the Sixers the last time they met in a 106-104 home loss where Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett. Julius Randle and Obi Toppin did the heavy lifting for NY. Maxey dropped a relatively inefficient but crucial 31 in that game, playing without Joel Embiid or James Harden. Philly gave up a late 19-5 run to blow a big lead in that one. Obviously, the Knicks will have another task altogether trying to contend with both the potential 2023 MVP and The Beard.

If Brunson really start to cook, the Sixers might consider playing Matisse Thybulle a bit more than usual. Doc Rivers hasn’t trusted Thybulle because of his offensive struggles, but if they could simply slow down JB, you have to figure it would put a major wrench in the works for Tom Thibodeau’s offense. P.J. Tucker has been tasked with slowing down the opponent’s best player, but the lilliputian guard is probably a bit too waterbug for Tuck.

We figure De’Anthony Melton will get the lion’s share of possessions on the former Wildcat and two-time NCAA champ. Melton has simply been a revelation recently.

Brunson gets the hype and he deserves a lot of it. But objects in rearview mirror are often much closer than they appear.

I think the Sixers get it done because of their defensive intensity, and ability to get to the free throw line. Hopefully, Harden keeps his stellar play up too. There are plenty of potential playoff seeding implications down the line in this one too. All we want for Christmas is an eighth straight dub....

Game Info

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. New York Knicks

When: December 25, 12 p.m. EST

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York

Watch: ABC, ESPN, ESPN+

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @LibertyBallers

The Sixers will tip off against the Knicks at 12 p.m. All nationally televised NBA games can be watched on Sling TV.

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