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Game Preview: New York Knicks at Philadelphia 76ers, January 5, 2024

New York travels to the city of brotherly love for a battle with Embiid and the Sixers.

New York Knicks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

This Friday Night, the New York Knicks (19-15) face off against the Philadelphia 76ers (23-10) at the Wells Fargo Center. The Knicks are on a two-game win streak, thanks in part to newcomer OG Anunoby, unbeaten in the orange and blue jersey, and the All-Star play (even if not recognized as such) of Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson.

Last season’s MVP Joel Embiid leads the powerhouse Sixers, which ranks fourth in offense, second in defense, and third in the Eastern Conference. Embiid has been near unstoppable this season, averaging career-highs of 34.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game. Oh boy, hasn’t there been lots of wishful thinking about this Big Cameroonian coming to New York?

You understand what all the fuss is about. Embiid is an all-caps NBA STAR. The 7-foot, 280 lb center is a rampaging rollman and a postup monster who can stroke the longball or ISO you into a body cast—or smartly dish to the open man. This season, the human equivalent of a tricked-out Hummer averages 3.2 stocks per game, has a 106 defensive rating, and ranks in the 94th percentile for rim protection. And he makes 89% of his free throws.

The big fella was once represented by Knicks team president Leon Rose, so speculation follows that because Leon and Joel remain on good terms, a reunion in New York is possible. If only it were so easy. True believers were encouraged when the James Harden debacle of last summer spilled into the season and put a fairly noxious stink on Philly. However, The Beard is happily ensconced in Los Angeles now, while Joel seems pretty darned content with his winning team and playing for new coach Nick Nurse. So much for the Embiid-is-disgruntled narrative.

As I digress amid a game preview, let’s say that Philly flames out in the Playoffs and Joel has had enough. He demands a trade to NY! What’s not to love about that scenario? Just a few things. He will turn thirty this season. After missing two entire seasons to start his NBA career (foot), the third pick in the 2014 Draft has appeared in 420 of a possible 588 regular-season games, or 71%.

That percentage isn’t bad for a star these days, but as he crosses that thirty demarcation, his body is bound to start breaking down after years of hard-charging usage. The question is when. Doesn’t it always seem to occur soon after an aging star joins a new team, after gutting said team to acquire said star? And despite his broad shoulders and plentiful ability, he has yet to carry his team to the promised land, where champions hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy and spray champagne into the sky.

Joel will require talented co-stars to enter those hallowed gates, but what Knicks players would remain to support him post-hypothetical trade? Would the Knicks ever draft again after surrendering every pick they’ve banked to Daryl Morey? Finally, there are reports that he wouldn’t want to play for Tom Thibodeau. Is that a deal breaker? Who’s the new coach? (Insert gif of Doc Rivers licking his chops.)

While hunting his white whale, Leon Rose has demonstrated a degree of shrewdness. Although his record is imperfect, he has signed some smart contracts, executed a few best-we-can-do-right-now moves, and practiced some calculated inaction. Unless he can find another means for bringing a title to the city—or pry Devin Booker away from Phoenix—whatever happens with Embiid will likely define Leon’s tenure in New York.

Really indulged my whimsy for a few minutes there, folks. . . . But about tonight’s game! The Sixers’ starting five also includes Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, Nic Batum, and Kelly Oubre Jr. In his fourth season, Tyrese Maxey has averaged 25.9 points, 6.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds and has been a perfect counterpart to Embiid. Philly’s other starters are no slouches either, as they rate first for the NBA’s Net Rating.

This game could be decided by the bench, but I expect the main guys to play big minutes for both clubs. Although outmatched on paper perhaps, the new look Knicks are a feisty bunch with renewed bite on defense who will be motivated to show the Sixers—and the league—what they’re made of. Prediction: in a down-to-the-wire affair, New York falls short by three.

Game Details:

Who: New York Knicks at Philadelphia 76ers

When: 7:30 pm EST, Friday, January 5, 2024

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

Watch: ESPN and MSG

Follow: @ptknicksblog