By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. 76ers | Madison Square Garden
When: Monday | 7:30 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (24-40): The Knicks are 3.5 games out of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot with 18 games left to play after Saturday night's win in Cleveland. They've now won three straight and have an opportunity to keep rolling with three straight games against teams below them in the standings, starting tonight against Philadelphia. New York is now 3-1 since coach Mike Woodson inserted J.R. Smith and Amar'e Stoudemire into the starting lineup.
Philadelphia (15-47): Only the Milwaukee Bucks have won fewer games than Phildadelphia, whose focus is squarely on the future as it's mired in a 16-game losing streak. The Sixers traded away two of their only veterans (Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner) at the deadline and now feature only two players on the roster (Thaddeus Young and Byron Mullens) with more than three years of NBA experience. Things have gotten so bad for this year's squad that there's been discussion of 36 straight losses to end the year, but Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Carter-Williams stands out as a bright spot, averaging 16.7 points, 6.3 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game.
The Numbers Game
Want to prove that "points per game" is a misleading metric? Look no further than the Sixers, who rank 18th in the NBA in scoring at 99.7 PPG, but are dead last in offensive efficiency when you adjust for pace.
Matchup to Watch
Amar'e Stoudemire vs. Thaddeus Young
Stoudemire has averaged 16.8 points on 55.1 percent shooting in four games since joining the starting lineup. He's also grabbing 6.8 boards per contest, including six offensive rebounds on Saturday in Cleveland. His contributions in the paint, along with Tyson Chandler's, have provided an obvious boost and the team's record reflects that. Young is probably Philadelphia's best all-around player, and poses a real test with his athleticism and ability to put the ball on the floor. His player efficiency rating of 17.3 is best on the team.
What to Look For
The Knicks are making a push toward the playoffs and there's a sense that things are beginning to fall in line after months of injuries and lineup shuffling to compensate. Carmelo Anthony has played like an M.V.P. candidate all year, but as he's battled through illness during the last two games, his teammates have stepped up to take on some of the load. Not only is the starting five clicking, but Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni have solidified the bench. Woodson credited Shumpert with sealing Saturday's win by his effort on defense and Prigioni knocked down two key threes as part of a 14-1 Knicks run...The Sixers play faster than any team in the league, but simply do not have the talent to execute half court sets. Getting back and preventing transition opportunities is the primary objective in this one.