The New York Knicks (25-35) lost to the Heat on Friday, despite a career-best 46 points from RJ Barrett. While the outcome was expected, Barrett’s output was not. Who knew the Maple Mamba had that much syrup in him? Me. Got his jersey in 2020.
On Sunday, New York will host the Philadelphia 76ers (36-23) for the third of a four-game season series. Against another formidable opponent, let’s see if Rowan can reach 50.
The Knicks won their first two meetings, 112-99 and 103-96. Kemba Walker’s 19 points led New York in the first contest, and Julius Randle went 31/12/3 in the second. Tobias Harris, 23 points, and Furkan Korkmaz, 19 points, were game toppers for the Fighting Cheesesteaks.
Seeded third in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers have the league’s 11th-ranked defense and its 16th offense. The Knicks are both blah and blah, but they have the edge after beating the Sixers twice already, right?
It’s a matinee, so we can get this over with early. Tip-off’s at 1 p.m., li’l Iversons.
Point guard Tyrese Maxey (6’2”, 200 lbs) has blossomed in his sophomore season. The 21-year old former Wildcat rates ninth in the league with 35.6 minutes played per game and has averaged 16.9 points and 4.6 assists.
History is often misremembered. A friend grumbles about New York selecting Obi Toppin eighth in the 2020 draft when Maxey was available. That’s understandable. But I felt relief on draft night because Julius Randle seemed like a dud, and Toppin seemed a potent replacement. New York could then package Randle in a trade for a point guard (which they always need, hence the Maxey grumbles). But, Julius flipped the script, then flipped it again, and here we are.
I stand by Obi. Watching him claim the Slam Dunk title in the NBA’s Hoopapalooza only deepened my affinity. He needs more development time during the season’s final leg…but minutes distribution remains a mystery on this team.
With Kemba mothballed, Alec Burks will start again at the point today. Burks played 34 minutes against Miami, Immanuel Quickley logged 17, and Deuce McBride got two. Two? It boggles the mind. Lately, Thibs looks like he’s chased a sleeping pill with a pot of coffee. Retirement might not be far off, after all.
At least we’ll see James Harden (6’5”, 220 lbs) in his new uni. Playing his 13th season, Harden averaged 22.5 points, 10.2 assists, and eight rebounds before fleeing the Nets. He went 27/12/8 in his Philly debut on Friday. Harden’s a bucket but, like Evan Fournier, a fluky defender. The Beard likes the nightlife, so 1 p.m. might be early for him. Meh. He’ll probably drop 30 anyway.
I’ve watched just enough of Matisse Thybulle (6’5”, 201 lbs) to think I like him. His 5.6 points per outing are a weakness, though. He defends well and ranks fifth in the league with 1.8 steals per game in his third season. His parsimonious output might be a liability when teamed with a nervous shooter like Ben Simmons, but the gluttonous Harden should prove a more fruitful pairing.
Fellow trade-deadline-survivor, Tobias Harris (6’8”, 226 lbs) has averaged 18.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in his 11th campaign. The former Volunteer will face Julius Randle, who is masterfully executing his plan to be the first double-winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Next season’s gonna be ah-maz-ing!
Joel Embiid (7+’, 280 lbs) leads the league in points per game (29.6) and usage (37.2) and ranks eighth in rebounds per game (11.2). The 27-year old juggernaut makes a compelling case to be the league’s MVP. He has averaged 23.8 points and 12.2 rebounds in six games against Mitchell Robinson. Mitch totaled zero points and nine rebounds against Miami and is unlikely to do better today.
The sky is falling. Quentin Grimes is injured. Derrick Rose will be out for another week or two. The coach is bewildered and bewildering, and Leon Rose is the J.D. Salinger of NBA execs. This season is a wrap, but nonetheless I root for the Bockers to win every game. Otherwise, why watch? Masochism?
ESPN.com gives Philly a 60% shot at winning, but I pick the Knicks to take the third game of the season from the Sixers. I’ll predict correctly one day. I was right about that Barrett jersey, wasn’t I?
Knicks by +3.
The Mecca. Sunday at 1 p.m. Beat the peppers outta those hoagies, Knicks!