Knicks: 3 keys to making it past the first round against the 76ers

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The first round of the playoffs is officially set. The New York Knicks will take on the Philadelphia 76ers in a best-of-seven series starting on Saturday. This series will be star-studded, most notably featuring Jalen Brunson and reigning MVP Joel Embiid going toe-to-toe.

New York won three out of the four matchups versus Philadelphia in the regular season, though three of those games were without Embiid. With Embiid back for the 76ers, and no Julius Randle for the Knicks, New York will have themselves a rather tough draw for the first round despite the 76ers being the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

Here are three keys for the Knicks to defeat the 76ers in the first round:

1. Shut down Philadelphia’s two All-Stars

Embiid is not the only All-Star on the 76ers’ roster, as point guard Tyrese Maxey just endured a breakout season averaging 25.9 points and being named to the All-Star team for the first time. He is also likely to win the league’s Most Improved Player award for his jump in performance.

The obvious game plan for the Knicks will be to shut down Embiid. They know that one way or another he will get his buckets, but if they can limit his versatility and force tough shots out of him, that will be a win for the Knicks.

But they must also give Maxey proper attention, as he has demonstrated the ability to take over games several times throughout the course of the regular season. Against the Knicks this season, Maxey averaged 26/4/6 while shooting 45% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Philadelphia 76ers
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Hart or OG Anunoby will likely be the ones who see the most time defending Maxey, as their mobility and tenacity on that end of the floor could give the young guard fits. Anunoby could also see some time defending Embiid, especially in situations where they are sending help and double-teaming him in the high post to try to force turnovers.

Keeping Philadelphia’s two stars quiet will be key for the Knicks, as it will allow them to pull away from them in terms of scoring.

2. The Knicks must perform in the non-Brunson minutes

As previously mentioned, Julius Randle won’t be featured in this series, or throughout the entire postseason for that matter. With that in mind, some of the team’s role players are going to need to step up, especially in the minutes Jalen Brunson is resting on the bench.

Once deemed a strength of this team, it became increasingly clear towards the end of the regular season that the lack of offensive creativity makes the Knicks’ bench a weakness. Over their final 22 regular season games, New York had a 16.0 net rating when Brunson was on the court versus a putrid -11.9 net rating with him off the court, according to NBA Stats and Info.

As the season concluded, guys like Miles McBride and Bojan Bogdanovic started to figure things out in their respective bench roles. While the bench unit will likely be shortened for the playoffs, they will still need to provide a positive impact for the Knicks to win the series comfortably.

New York Knicks guard Miles McBride (2) gestures during the first half of the game against the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center
Mar 18, 2024; San Francisco, California, USA; New York Knicks guard Miles McBride (2) gestures during the first half of the game against the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

3. Take advantage of home-court advantage

The Knicks finished the regular season as the no. 2 seed in the East, meaning they will have home-court advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs — if they make it that far.

New York performed very well at home this season, as they went 27-14 in such games in the regular season, the sixth-best mark in the NBA. Philadelphia meanwhile, was a solid road team as well as they went 22-19, one game worse than the Knicks’ road record.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks have showcased all season long that no matter where they are playing, they play tough and physical for all 48 minutes. Being that they will be at their home court more often in the first round, they need to take advantage of that. If they are able to head into Philadelphia up 2-0 and steal a game on the road on top of that, New York will put themselves in a great position to win the series.

Game 1 of the series will be this Saturday at 6 P.M. EST. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN and locally on MSG Network.

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