Knicks Not an Underdog Anymore


Wilt Chamberlain and Allen Iverson, Patrick Ewing and Walt Frazier, Julius Erving and Moses Malone, Carmelo Anthony and Willis Reed.

Now, another chapter is about to be written as these franchises’ faces will do battle as Jalen Brunson and Joel Embiid will stand toe to toe in trying to etch their names in their city’s history of basketball. They cannot do that before going through each other.

These two storied franchises, littered with a rich history of Hall-of-Fame players, clash once again in the first round of the playoffs after the 76ers topped the Miami Heat, 105-104, in the Play-In Tournament. It was a slugfest in which the 76ers trailed for most of, but they eventually prevailed at home.

They earned a date with the two-seeded New York Knicks, with Game 1 being Saturday night at 6pm ET at Madison Square Garden.

Let’s dive into the different aspects of the series including key matchups, X-factors, a prediction for the series, and more.

76ers Breakdown

The 76ers deploy one of the league’s best players in Joel Embiid. Stopping him is the number one priority for the Knicks.

In the teams’ four matchups this season, the Knicks went 3-1, holding the 76ers to under 100 points in each game. However, Embiid did only appear in one of those games.

The 76ers want to attack the paint as much as possible. Embiid masters in interior and midrange scoring, and the team possesses the second-best free-throw percentage in the NBA (82.6%). Getting to the line as much as possible and limiting Jalen Brunson’s possessions will be the recipe for the 76ers.

If he is consistently getting 35-40 points per game in the series, the Knicks are in trouble.

Tyrese Maxey is a savvy offensive player and has settled in well as the franchise’s second option. However, the Knicks would rather have him or Tobias Harris taking 20 or more shots in a game than allow Embiid to get 40 points. The 76ers only have the 18th-best three-point percentage in the NBA at 36.3%, and attempt the 19th-most threes in the NBA. 

It will be a lot of Embiid, and a lot of Maxey, with their role players spotting up for kick-out catch-and-shoot threes. It will be up to the Knicks to make sure the 76ers’ struggles from deep continue and their interior defense is strong enough to not let Embiid become comfortable and Maxey have free runs at the rim.

Keys for the Knicks

It has become rather apparent down the home stretch of this season that the Knicks are simply a better team than the 76ers. They shoot the three better, rebound better, and defend better at both levels.

The area where the Knicks could attack the 76ers is on the offensive glass. Philadelphia struggles on the defensive glass, and the Knicks are the top offense-rebounding team in the league. Second and third chances could prove to be a massive swing in this series. 

Tom Thibodeau has been preparing the Knicks for a playoff environment all season. While some may say the heavy minutes he plays his starters and constant attention to detail every possession could be exhausting (completely possible), it could also be spun as a pseudo-playoff intensity. They attack each possession as if it is their last and as long as they continue to outwork their opponents and try to make Philadelphia match their intensity, the Knicks should win this series.

There are a few key matchups to look out for early on, and the winner of each one will set the tone for the series. The first one is Joel Embiid against the frontcourt defense of Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson. Having Robinson back from a long-term injury will be crucial for this series, as foul trouble likely isn’t a concern and both bigs bring different skills to the table offensively.

Another matchup to focus on is OG Anunoby’s defense on Maxey. Everyone knows Embiid is going to garner a large amount of attention from the Knicks defense, and rightfully so. But Anunoby likely drawing the Maxey matchup will put him in a big position to slow down the main offensive initiator for the 76ers. If the Knicks bigs can keep Embiid at bay, and Anunoby continues his all-world defensive versatility and prowess, their chances of winning the series increase tenfold.


This could go in a variety of directions, but the one player who has to play well on both ends to give the Knicks the best chance possible is OG Anunoby. Jalen Brunson is going to get his buckets, Donte DiVincenzo will make his spot-up threes, and Josh Hart will out-hustle every Sixer possible.

But Anunoby playing a tenacious, sound defensive series while offering another scoring option on offense as a corner-three specialist will be what decides this series. The Knicks are 20-3 with Anunoby in the lineup, and with him at his best, it’s difficult to see this 76ers team beating the Knicks four out of seven games.

Series Prediction

The common perception of this series seems to be pretty split down the middle. Many experts are going with the home-court advantage, up-and-coming New York Knicks. Others have rolled with the superstardom of Joel Embiid and the team that has more playoff pedigree over recent history.

The 76ers slowing down Jalen Brunson is far-fetched. No matter what any team has thrown at him, he succeeds. Some of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA have been given fits by his unrelenting contested shot-making, ability to pick his spots, and playmaking ability.

The Knicks haven’t allowed the 76ers to score triple-digit points in four games this season. With New York already having played games as if it’s their last all season— and the 76ers limping into the series — the Knicks look like the pick here.

The matchups across the guard and wing play favor the Knicks in terms of both size and ability, and Hartenstein and Robinson will pose a real threat to slow down the titan that has become Joel Embiid.

The pick: Knicks in 6.

It remains to be seen whether or not the Knicks will seize their opportunity to home-court advantage against a team of the 76ers’ caliber. In what should be a long, physical, highly competitive series, the chance for these stars to cement their legacy as franchise legends start on Saturday night.

About Tim Fell

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