All the Knicks want for Christmas is a win against the 76ers and to prove they are no fluke.
The Knicks enter their Christmas Day matchup at 17-15 and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, a similar scenario to last year when they were 16-13 at this time before going 15-37 the rest of the way.
Yet Enes Kanter, who was not on last year’s team, believes this group is playing with a chip on its shoulder.
“It’s us against the world,” Kanter said on Sunday. “It’s New York Knicks against the whole world.”
“Everyone thought we’d just be the No. 1 pick and be the worst team in NBA,” he added. “But people don’t understand how hard we work on this court every day, people don’t know how much we sacrifice and what we’re doing. People don’t know how much all these guys are willing to learn.”
Through 32 games, the Knicks have certainly exceeded the low expectations placed on them before the season by taking advantage of an early home-friendly schedule by going 15-5 at Madison Square Garden.
Enes Kanter says the Knicks are playing with a chip on their shoulder.
Following a road loss to the Detroit Pistons on Friday, the Knicks will be back home for a noon tip-off on national TV against a struggling 76ers team that has lost five straight and nine of their last 10 games.
But the Sixers will have center Joel Embiid, who played in just five of the last 10 games, including their lone win. Embiid had missed three straight games before returning from a back injury on Saturday, but played just 23 minutes in a loss to the Raptors.
“A lot of it depends on Embiid’s health,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “When he plays they’re a pretty good team.”
The Sixers, who trail the Knicks in the standings, are 13-11 when Embiid is on the court and 1-7 without him. The Knicks will count on Kanter to guard the seven-footer — who is averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds a game.
“As a player, obviously, he is one of the best big men in the league,” Kanter said. “I respect the guy a lot. I mean, I don’t really see nobody just hurt for 3-4 years and coming back and play at the level he’s playing right now. So that’s why I respect the guy a lot. Obviously he’s a really good player and we have to do a really good job on him.”
Joel Embiid played just 23 minutes in Saturday’s loss to the Raptors in his return from a back injury.
(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
While Embiid could be limited, the Knicks will also have their hands full in 6-foot-10 rookie point guard Ben Simmons.
Simmons is averaging 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists per game after missing all of last season with a broken foot. The 21-year-old Australian native, whose father grew up in the Bronx, will be playing his first professional game at Madison Square Garden and against the Knicks.
“Obviously, with Simmons’ size at point guard, his ability to pass the ball and push it we got to make sure we’re back in transition,” Hornacek said. “He can throw to shooters (Robert) Covington, (J.J.) Redick, other guys that can knock the shots in. When you have the combination of a point guard who can pass the ball like that and a big guy inside like Embiid who can post up down low, they can spread the ball out.”
While Jarrett Jack will likely see the most time guarding Simmons, Hornacek added that 6-foot-5 rookie Frank Ntilikina could pose as a favorable matchup.
“We’ll see. We’ll see how Jarrett does,” Hornacek said. “Frank is probably a guy we’ll need his length at point guard so yeah, he’ll probably be out there.”