It’s the first Sunday without NFL football since September, and we’ve got a division matchup between the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks.
When these Eastern Conference Atlantic Division teams met back in early November both James Harden and Joel Embiid were injured so it was the Tyrese Maxey show.
Still, Philadelphia possessed a ten-point lead with under seven minutes remaining in the fourth, led by ‘Rese Lightning’s eventual 31 points. But the Knicks, spearheaded by former Villanova star and Jalen Hurts fan, Jalen Brunson, went on a 19-5 run over the next six minutes to take a four-point lead, hanging on to steal a win on South Broad St. No comforting “Here they Come” melodies that night, sadly. Final score Knicks 106, Sixers 104.
The Sixers would get their revenge on Christmas Day winning 119-112 when the situation was reversed. In that primetime special, Maxey was out, still recovering from the fractured bone in his foot the former Wildcat suffered back on Nov. 18th, 2022. But Harden and Embiid were back out there.
Harden and Embiid combined for 64 points, playing Grinch that winter afternoon. Harden was especially surgical piling up 29 points and 13 assists. Mr. Third All Time on the career triples made leaderboard tallied five of his 2,694 career threes that holiday. As of now he’s 279 made threes away from tying the prolific marksmen sitting in second place, Ray Allen.
Since Harden returned from his sprained foot on Dec. 5, the Sixers have won 22 of their last 28 games, as the former MVP has looked as healthy as he has in Brotherly Love red, white, and blue.
With the season series tied at one apiece, Tom Thibodeau’s group will hope their devoted NYC fanbase can help propel them to a victory over the team with the league’s fourth-best record. They’ll need the energy because they lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime last night, 134-128, sort of ideal for Philly here.
Just look at these Thibs minute totals:
January’s Eastern Conference Coach of the Month Doc Rivers’ team is now third place in the East, two games behind the first place Boston Celtics. Both Rivers, and his former 2008 championship winning defensive coordinator Thibs are chasing a Celtics team they once led to a world title by defeating Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Currently, Joel Embiid and co. are just half a game behind the second place Milwaukee Bucks. Philadelphia (34-17) holds 7.5 games on the Knicks (28-26). New York is in seventh place and as of today would host the Atlanta Hawks for a Play-In game.
(How fun would that be, getting to watch Trae Young try to play villain in a raucous, frenzied win-and-in match up at MSG?)
Seven years and a couple months ago, FS1 analyst Ric Bucher came to a fork in the road and made a bold choice. Should he trust the Sixers’ tanking process or the Knicks fight, scrap and claw for mediocrity and respect process?
Bucher made his bed. I suppose we could say he’s slept in it ever since. The old ‘Frosty Freeze Out’ promotion at Wells has nothing on this historically frigid take:
I'm ready to Trust The Process. The Knicks' process. Inducing young talent to lose year after year isn't a process, it's negligence. #76ers— Ric Bucher (@RicBucher) November 22, 2015
“The Knicks are doing well. They’re not at the top of the league, but they’re not at the bottom. They’re in a playoff position now,” Knicks owner James Dolan said during a televised Fox 5 interview in late January, 2023.
It’s a little bit revealing. His idea that they’re “doing well” in the middle contrasts starkly with former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie’s values. As former Liberty Baller Jake Pavorsky once said, about the pre-Sam Sixers, channeling his inner Process Truster: “[The Sixers] were trapped in the middle, which is the worst place to be in the NBA.”
Those competing philosophies are probably the biggest reason why Hinkie’s Sixers landed Joel Embiid in the 2014 NBA Draft while the Knicks’ 2014 selection was used to select Dario Saric...by Hinkie... for the Sixers, not the Knicks...while also netting Philadelphia a future first-rounder that became Landry Shamet mostly ‘cause other teams feared The Homie never coming over.
Embiid, the back-to-back runner up MVP, currently ranks second in the KIA MVP Ladder over on NBA.com. He is 15-1 all time vs. the Knicks. He’s been a true Knicks killer over the years. And recently he took an unprompted jab at New York, in classic Troel fashion.
The Knicks won’t have center Mitchell Robinson, but they will have some bulletin board material after this stray the other night:
Embiid gets asked about being undefeated in LA, immediately mentions the same thing is true for the Bulls and Knicks pic.twitter.com/wS7m0m0eyv— hoops bot (@hoops_bot) January 18, 2023
Offensive and defensive ratings
- The Sixers have the sixth-best offensive rating in the NBA, 115.6 points per 100 possessions.
- The Knicks rank ninth in the same category, 115 pts/100.
- The Sixers also rank sixth in defensive rating, allowing just 111.5 pts/100.
- The Knicks rank 17th, allowing as many points per 100 as they score themselves, for an even 115.
If we only look at the span of games between Dec. 5th, 2022, through last week, when James Harden returned to the Sixers lineup, turbo charging their offense, while diminishing their defense:
- The Sixers have the third-best offensive rating (119).
- The Knicks posted the fifth-best offensive rating over this span 118.1 pts/100.
- Philadelphia has the ninth-rated defense (allowing 113.4 pts/100).
- Tom Thibodeau’s group comes in 16th, allowing 114.4 pts/100 over that 29 game span.
The Knicks have gone 10-8 over their last 18 games.
One story line to keep an eye on. Julius Randle was voted an All-Star Reserve. It’s the second time in his career the former Laker and Pelican made an All-Star game. He accomplished the feat in 2020-2021 as well, joining Joel Embiid on All-NBA Second Team that season as well, in part because they hate the process, Joel should have made First Team since he was runner up MVP.
Speaking of this theme, Harden is not an All-Star this season. Some fans thought The Beard might take out a little frustration on the San Antonio Spurs Friday. He didn’t by his standards, finishing with just 16 points and eight assists. If he cares enough to make any statements, doing so on a nationally televised game at The Mecca while sharing the floor with Randle might catch a few more eyes.
I think Harden should have made his 11th consecutive All-Star game. He’s averaging over 20 and 11, playing scorer-facilitator, leader for the NBA’s fourth/best team to date.
Steve Nash MVP seasons— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) February 4, 2023
'04-'05 15.5 ppg, 11.5 apg, 43 % 3p, 3.3 reb, 3.3 TO
'05-'06 18.8 ppg, 10.5 asg, 44 % 3p , 4.2 reb, 3.5 TO
James Harden: All Star Snub
'22-'23 21.3 ppg, 10.9 apg, 39.5% 3p, 6.3 reb, 3.5 TO
(#Sixers 4th best record in NBA)
But I don’t get a vote.
The Knicks have been involved in plenty of trade rumors. Guys like former first-round pick and Slam Dunk Champion Obi Toppin haven’t been part of Thibodeau’s rotation lately, fueling speculation they could move on from the high flier.
Per Michael Scotto for Hoops Hype:
“The Knicks and Jazz have had exploratory conversations surrounding Obi Toppin, Evan Fournier, and draft pick compensation for Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, league sources told HoopsHype.”
It appears the Sixers may have some competition in the division if they have their sights set on Jarred Vanderbilt, Utah’s athletic combo big.
In Saturday’s loss to the Clippers the Knicks started Brunson, Randle, Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett, and Jericho Sims.
The Sixers have started Embiid, Harden, Tobias Harris, De’Anthony Melton, and P.J. Tucker the last five games. When everyone is healthy, it appears that is the starting unit Doc Rivers has settled upon, with Tyrese Maxey as his super sixth man.
Joel Embiid has been listed as “questionable” with left foot soreness. Mitchell Robinson is “out” for the Knicks. The Sixers opened as -5.5 point road favorites (-110) over on DraftKings as of late Saturday night.
We expect both teams to roll with those units baring game day injury report updates.
Maxey tends to come in for Philadelphia and lead an all-bench unit comprised of himself along with Shake Milton, Georges Niang, Matisse Thybulle, and Montrezl Harrell lately. That all bench unit has appeared in 13 games, logging 90 minutes, outscoring opponents by 17 points since Dec. 30th, the date Maxey returned from his six week absence.
The plan has essentially been to let that unit burn clock while Harden and Embiid catch a breather, then bring Harden back to log a few minutes with the bench, before Embiid’s second quarter stint begins. Rivers apparently likes to keep Harden and Embiid’s minutes largely tethered because he’s betting they outscore opponents more by maximizing the duo’s shared minutes as opposed to relying on one of the two to keep units afloat; while also building chemistry for the playoffs.
Harden scores a lot more points per 36 minutes when he plays without Embiid. But the end results have been difficult to quibble with as the Sixers keep simply winning games. The Garden should be pretty charged up without any football games overlapping Sunday. Hopefully there will be some rowdy process trusters in attendance.
There could be a low key Philly takeover in Manhattan these days.
Fly @Eagles Fly! We’re going Green and White in honor of the Eagles NFC Championship Victory. pic.twitter.com/RNiwbCIkt7— Empire State Building (@EmpireStateBldg) January 29, 2023
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. New York Knicks
When: 6 p.m. EST
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic