Philadelphia at New York
Time: 11 AM (CT) ESPN
Spread: NYK -3
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Philadelphia 76ers have dropped its last five games to fall to 14-18 on the season, and Philly now trails No. 8 New York by three-games.
The Knicks have won six of its last 10 and host the Sixers in the first of five Christmas day games. The Knicks are 3-point favorites in the game which will air at 11 AM (CT) on ESPN, and it has an over/under set at 208.5 points according to NBA oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes.
Philly most recently has dropped games to Oklahoma City, Chicago, Sacramento, and Toronto (twice). All of the losses were by six points or less, as Philly has stayed in games and continually fell short. Last game against Toronto, the Sixers got a near triple-double from Dario Saric (18 points, nine assists and 10 boards), and all starters scored in double-figures, but it was not enough as DeMar DeRozan torched the Sixers backcourt for 45 points. Philly was without Joel Embiid in the affair, which significantly weakens their starting lineup when it goes with the offense-deficient Amir Johnson at the 5-spot.
Philadelphia is a much different team with Embiid available. He leads the team in scoring at 24.1 points per game and he also averages 11 rebounds and nearly two blocks a game, while posting a team-high PER Of 24.1. Embiid returned in the second game of the doubleheader against Toronto to shoot 5 of 13 en route to 14 points and eight rebounds. It was not one of Embiid’s finer performances, but the Sixers struggled badly in the second and third quarters against Toronto and putting together “complete” games has been an issue for Philly as its young core tries to gain momentum on the season.
Ben Simmons has been sensational, as well, in his rookie season. The one-and-done from LSU is averaging 17 points, nine rebounds and 7.8 assists per game. Saric has stepped it up the most in recent games, as he is averaging 17.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and four assists over the Sixers past five. The No. 12 pick from 2014 is showing more of the consistency and all-around talent that he did towards the end of last season, which makes the Sixers a tougher (and deeper) team through and through. Robert Covington is quietly becoming one of the best “three and D” players on the wing, and the Sixers have a winning formula. It is now just about closing out games and playing tougher defense in the fourth quarter.
New York shed itself of Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose over the offseason, and it seems to have been an “addition by subtraction.” Though Anthony brought Enes Kanter to New York, the biggest benefit of losing Anthony has been the absolute unleashing of 7-foot-3 Latvian Kristaps Porzingis. Lingering in the shadow of ball-hogging Rose and Anthony, Porzingis often appeared out of sorts last season—and he did not attempt anywhere near enough shots.
That has changed with Porzingis becoming the focus of the Knicks offense, and the benefit has been that New York has surged towards respectability. Currently, the Knicks occupy the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, if the playoffs began today.
Porzingis is averaging 24.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game while posting a PER of 22.7.
Kanter’s PER is the team’s best at 24.2, as the efficient center averages 13.5 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the floor and doing it all in just about 25 minutes a game. The emergence of Tim Hardaway Jr can hardly be ignored, either.
The son of Tim Hardaway of 1990s lore, Hardaway is a different player than his father, standing six inches taller and being a swingman, unlike his point guard father. Hardaway is averaging 17.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, though he does shoot just 42 percent from the floor and 31 percent from three-point range. Hardaway has been dealing with a leg injury, and has been cleared for “little jumps” in his rehabilitation process but has yet to begin running and will continue to be unavailable for the near future.
Combining with Hardaway, Kanter and Porzingis are some effective role players: Courtney Lee is still a great defender capable of having his nights (12.8 points per game), and Doug McDermott seems to have found a role in New York as a shooter off the bench. McDermott averages 8.6 points per game while shooting a team-high 42.7 percent from three-point range.
Even the maligned Michael Beasley makes his impact as a scorer in the second unit. Beasley averages nearly 11 points per game in only 17 minutes a night.
Journeyman Jarrett Jack is still an effective backup point guard, and Kyle O’Quinn for all his inconsistencies is a great high post passer and quick scorer. Rookie Frank Ntilikina is coming along, too, and averaging 5.5 points and 3.2 assists per game in under 20 minutes a night. Perhaps most telling has been the praise of other players, billing Ntilikina highly as a defender and up and comer.
So, while the Knicks are a strange grouping of talents outside of Porzingis, it is not an ineffective lineup. In fact, the Knicks could be real playoff threats if the team continues to round into form and plays better defense. There is ample reasons for excitement to run high in New York after so many disappointing seasons, and Christmas day could be a chance for Porzingis and company to make a statement against another team in the rise in the Sixers.