What’s more deleterious, having almost half your team injured or traveling for the second night of a back-to-back? Which handicap would you prefer?
On Saturday, an understaffed Philadelphia squad won 114-105 in Chicago. On Sunday, the Knicks lost 126-109 at home to the Cavs. On Monday, the Knicks travel to the Wells Fargo Center for a rematch with the Sixers.
The breaking news is that Joel Embiid is out.
That should make things easier for the Knicks. But these Knicks rarely make things easier for themselves. See what I mean?
Nerlens Noel (sore lower back) and Mitchell Robinson (hip flexor) are questionable for tonight’s game at Philadelphia.— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) November 8, 2021
Woof. Hopefully at least one of them can go tonight.
WHEN LAST THEY MET
The Knicks had lost 15 straight against Philly, so the 112-99 victory on October 26 was especially satisfying. Tobias Harris, always a pest for the Knicks, gathered 23 points and nine rebounds for the Liberty Belles. Embiid, hampered by a bad knee, tossed in 14. Kemba Walker played a great game, scoring 19, and Evan Fournier added 18.
WHAT’S NEW IN PHILLY?
Since losing to the Knicks, Philadelphia has won six straight. They’ll be motivated to even the score and extend their streak to seven.
Their run of wins is impressive because the injury bug has been a-buzzing in Philly. Danny Green (hamstring), Matisse Thybulle (COVID protocols), Isaiah Joe (COVID), Ben Simmons (cuckoo), Tobias Harris (yep, COVID), and Grant Riller (knee surgery) have all missed time recently. All-Star Joel Embiid dealt with a knee issue for a while, too. Today, it was reported that Embiid has also entered health and safety protocols for COVID. The hits don’t stop.
Nonetheless, this squad stands atop the Conference with an 8-2 record. They’ve benefited from a medium-strength schedule but did beat the Bulls twice.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers has had to mix-and-match line-ups to account for absent players. Against Chicago, he started Paul Reed in place of Danny Green, and Seth Curry and Shake Milton have split wing duties with Harris out.
Embiid’s knee must be fully recuperated. He scored 30 points and 15 rebounds in Chicago. In their last meeting, Mitchell Robinson’s stat line didn’t impress (7/6/1 and zero blocks), but his presence was felt. He mostly contained Embiid, aided by occasional double-team help from Fournier and Barrett. With Joel scratched for tonight, expect to see Andre Drummond starting at center and another slugfest in the paint, against Taj Gibson or whoever is playing for the Knicks.
PG Tyrese Maxey is averaging 14 ppg in 34.7 mpg. He’s shooting 52% from the field, but only 33% from long. The sophomore is a workhorse for Rivers, logging 45 minutes against the Pistons and 44 against Chicago. Thibs rested Kemba on Sunday, but Walker should be back in action and guarding the Kentucky alum. Kemba had a 19/3/5 stat line when they last met—the Knicks could use more of that.
Seth Curry is having a fine season, scoring 17 ppg, shooting 60% from the field, and 50% from range, taking five per game. He’s averaging 33 minutes a game, too. Curry covered Fournier in their October contest. He’ll likely shift to RJ Barrett with Green sitting.
Both Seth and RJ Barrett have defensive ratings around 113, and their numbers are sorta close—RJ is averaging 19.2 ppg, shooting 47% FG, and 40% from three (taking six per game). Barrett couldn’t find the touch on Sunday and sat down the stretch. Here’s his chance for redemption.
Shake Milton is a versatile swingman. He’s the second point guard on the depth chart but has started at the two with Rivers shuffling his available cards. Shake’s getting about 12ppg, four rebounds, four assists in 24 mpg. Evan Fournier has a better defensive rating (112 to Shake’s 108) and should have the slight edge. It’d be nice to see Fournier put together a complete game.
Paul Reed started on Saturday and will likely do so again on Monday. Per ESPN’s depth chart, the sophomore is a third-string PF/C who will split minutes with Georges Niang. In 21 minutes against the Bulls, Reed went 5-6 from the floor, netting 10 points and five rebounds. Julius Randle, coming off a 19/7/7 game against Cleveland, will have a significant advantage here.
The loss to the Cavs stung. The Fighting Cheesesteaks are a gritty bunch, too, and find a way to win despite adversity. The loss of Embiid will probably be too much for them to overcome, however. If all goes well, the Knicks should have a fairly easy go of it. If not…another two-game losing streak would be a bummer, especially to such a decimated club.
The City of Brotherly Love. Monday, 7 PM. Go Knicks.