The Sixers will play host to the New York Knicks tonight on the back of a demolition job against the Spurs. Since the All-star break, the Sixers are surprisingly 3-0 and have won each game by at least 22 points. It’s even more shocking when you remember that they’ve done this without a combination of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for the most part. They’ll be looking to make it 4-0 tonight by beating a team they haven’t faced since a Boxing Day win at Madison Square Garden.
The Sixers will still be without Joel Embiid tonight as he continues to recover from a bone bruise suffered in the team’s recent win over Washington. The good news is of course that an MRI revealed that there was no structural damage, but any game without Embiid in the lineup will continue to be a significantly different affair. There is no timeline for his return as things stand, with the budding MVP candidate set for a reevaluation in 2-3 weeks.
Tony Bradley looks to be the man who will start in place of Embiid, having ben given the opportunity in each of the last three contests. The former Jazz player has proven that he can carry the load while Embiid recovers and recently went 7-7 shooting from the field against the Bulls.
Outside of that, the Sixers have a clean bill of health. Ben Simmons returned from COVID contact tracing protocol on Sunday and it was like he never left, with the Aussie posting up 14 points and 9 assists.
The Knicks come into this one a little fatigued after last night’s loss to the Nets and bearing some battle scars. Derrick Rose and Mitchell Robinson will be joining Elfrid Payton and Austin Rivers in watching this one from the sidelines.
For the ‘process’ lovers out there, this means that we’ll likely see a healthy dose of Nerlens Noel, who has been starting in place of Robinson. He’s averaging 6.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, and 1.1 steals as a starter this season.
The team is oddly 8-5 when Noel has started, so while he may not be the most gifted center in the league, something is clearly working for the 20-20 Knicks.
What you need to know
Tom Thibodeau has proven to be a successful appointment for the team, with the Knicks taking on a defensive identity under his guidance. They rank 6th in total defense, but the flurry of injuries has really hampered their offensive output.
With that said, they still sliced into a 16-point deficit last night before falling short of the mark against the Nets. R.J Barrett played a key role in that game, as he has in many of the Knicks’ matchups this season. The 20-year-old poured in 23 points while adding 6 assists and 4 rebounds. When the Sixers clashed with the Nets on Boxing day, Ben Simmons was able to hold him to a dismal 2 shots made in 15 attempts. Look for Simmons to be all over him when they lock horns tonight.
The Sixers will turn to Tobias Harris for some offensive flair as they have over the past few games. In fact, Harris is averaging a career-high 3.5 assists this season and without Embiid around to make things happen in the paint, the vision of Harris will be leaned on as it was against the Spurs where he facilitated 7 assists.
This is a very winnable matchup against the 7th place Knicks who are coming off of a gut-wrenching loss to the Nets and are far from being at 100%. The Sixers can’t afford to get complacent here, but if they can find ways to get their younger players some valuable minutes as they have over the past few games, then that’s always going to be seen as a bonus as preparations for a playoff run begin.
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