By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – In this shortened NBA season, every game is more important. Tonight’s game against the Knicks, and Friday’s game against the Celtics are crucial for the Sixers if their goal of winning the Atlantic Division is going to become a reality. The once fading Knicks are now four games behind the Sixers, and the Celtics are just a game and a half behind.
The Knicks (22-24) team the Sixers will face tonight has the same players as the last time they played, but a new coach, and are winners of four in a row. Mike Woodson has taken over the reigns of the Knicks since Mike D’Antoni’s resignation, and the team has responded, moving back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Though two of the four wins have come against Toronto and Portland, the other two came in back-to-back wins over the Indiana Pacers.
Woodson’s offensive system was supposed to be more Carmelo Anthony-friendly, with more isolation plays, it hasn’t been an Anthony scoring spree that’s sparked the wins. Anthony has averaged just over 15 points per game since Woodson took over, shooting just 40% from the field. Instead, the Knicks have been winning with … gasp … defense. They’ve allowed more than 90 points just once in the four games Woodson has coached.
The once consistent Sixers (26-20) have been searching for an identity in recent weeks, with a five game losing streak heading into the All-Star break, a three game winning streak after Evan Turner’s move to the starting lineup, followed by a three game losing streak as Turner’s minutes decreased. They took care of business Monday night in Charlotte, but the Bobcats are hardly a true test, with the worst record, worst offense, and one of the worst defenses in the league. Turner’s minutes and scoring have decreased for five consecutive games.
There will be plenty of individual match-ups to watch as well. Andre Iguodala will spend most of his evening guarding Carmelo Anthony, who although is having a down season, is one of the toughest guys to guard in the league. Even though Anthony is likely to get his points, Iguodala usually does a good job of making him take plenty of shots to get them. The power forward match-up will be hard fought as well. Elton Brand has done a good job historically on Stoudmire, outscoring and out-rebounding him in games against each other. The point guard position will be one to watch as well, with Jrue Holiday pretty much shutting down Jeremy Lin completely when they faced off earlier this month.
The teams have split their two games this season.
The game will start at 7pm, and there are still limited tickets remaining at sixers.com, and can be heard live on 94WIP.