The first of their four matchups is Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. Both teams are well under .500 yet still very much alive to win quite possibly the worst division in league history. New York opened as a 2.5-point favorite on NBA odds with a total of 209.
What To Do With J.R.?
One would think all would be well with the Knicks right now. They have won four of five -- covering all five, four as an underdog, on NBA odds. They upset the Spurs in San Antonio on Jan. 2 and beat visiting Miami 102-92 on Thursday. Yet things aren't all copacetic in Manhattan. First off, there's the talk that Carmelo Anthony indeed might take less money this offseason as a free agent to leave New York because he's unhappy with the direction of the franchise. That would be ironic considering how hard Anthony pushed to play with the Knicks while with Denver, a trade that made New York worse and put the team in this hole.
New York would deal 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith for a bag of balls right now. It's really the team's own fault. It overpaid Smith this offseason, then enabled him by keeping his brother Chris on the roster even though the guy has about much NBA game as I do. Earlier this week, J.R. Smith was fined $50,000 for "recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct" by the NBA. Smith untied the shoelace of the Mavericks' Shawn Marion while they were awaiting a free throw attempt in Sunday's game. The league warned Smith not to do it again, and he appeared to try and do it on Tuesday against the Pistons.
If a superstar like LeBron James does something like that, it's funny. Smith is not LeBron James, plus Smith was suspended the first five games this season for violating the NBA's anti-drug policy and has had other off-court issues. Knicks coach Mike Woodson publicly chided Smith after the fine, calling the incidents "unacceptable" and that Smith has been "unprofessional about how he's approached this whole thing." So Woodson didn't play Smith against the Heat. Again, if Smith was performing, this is probably all forgotten. He is shooting just 32.3 percent from the field and averaging 11.3 points. Last season he averaged 18.1 points on .422 from the field. The Knicks essentially bid against themselves this offseason and gave Smith a three-year, $18 million deal. No team will touch that unless New York takes back an equally toxic player/contract or some nuclear waste.
I am presuming Smith does play Saturday. The Knicks have played the past two games without their second-most important player and only good defender, center Tyson Chandler. He has an illness but seems likely to return Saturday with a few more days off after being a game-time call Thursday. Backup point guard Beno Udrih sat out Thursday with a bruised knee and is questionable for Saturday. Rotation players Metta World Peace and Pablo Prigoni remain out with injuries.
Philly Hard To Read
The Sixers can't seem to stand success. They have won at least two straight games twice all season and then went immediately into the tank afterward. The first was a season-opening three-game winning streak, which was followed by losing eight of 10. The 76ers then recently closed out a six-game road trip with four straight wins, including a shocker in Portland on Jan. 4. Instead of coming home and building on that momentum, the young team was slaughtered 126-95 by Minnesota on Monday and then crushed 111-93 in Cleveland on Tuesday by the struggling Cavs.
Philly's league-worst defense allowed Cleveland mediocre guard C.J. Miles to blister the 76ers for 10 3-pointers and 34 points. It was the second time this season a player had 10 3-pointers against Philly (Nets' Joe Johnson). The Sixers' Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner had both been playing well -- Young is the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week -- and are having good seasons, but they combined for four points on 2-for-20 from the field against the Cavs. In fact, the only starter in double figures was Rookie of the Year favorite Michael Carter-Williams with a career-high 33.
This will be the second of a back-to-back for Philly as it hosted Detroit on Friday.
The Knicks won three of four against the Sixers last season -- New York averaged 97.3 points and Philadelphia 90.5 -- and have won seven of the past nine overall in this series. Carmelo Anthony averaged 25.5 points and 7.0 rebounds against Philly in 2012-13. Jrue Holiday, now with New Orleans, averaged 27.3 points and 6.5 assists against New York for the Sixers, so New York won't likely mind seeing Carter-Williams instead of Holiday.
I got suckered into thinking Philly had turned a corner on Monday. I projected a Minnesota win but thought the Sixers could cover the 7.5-point spread at the sportsbooks. At least the over 220 hit. Who knows which Philly shows up here? The Knicks actually have a better road record than at home -- solid 10-7 ATS road mark -- and have won four of six away from the Garden. Add that to the fact the Sixers will be on the second of a back-to-back, plus the expectation that Chandler returns, and I lean New York for our NBA pick, which has covered seven of its past eight in Philly, on the spread at sportsbooks and the under. The under is 6-1 in the past seven meetings at Philadelphia.