How long can the Philadelphia 76ers hold off the charging New York Knicks ? I recently wrote an article examining if the Sixers could hold off the Boston Celtics . But now it is clear that I was asking the wrong question.
The Sixers are faltering, with six losses in their last seven games and seven losses in their last 10. During the same time, the Knicks have gone 7-3 and cut the Sixers’ lead to three games. Boosted by the emergence of Jeremy Lin, the acquisition of J.R. Smith and the return of Carmelo Anthony to the lineup, the Knicks have become the Sixers’ biggest rival to win the Atlantic Division.
The remaining schedule is not really favorable for either team. Each team has 13 home games and 17 road games left. Excluding games against each other, the Knicks have six games against division leaders and the Sixers have four. The Sixers close the season with a five-game road trip.
The Knicks are playing with their full complement of players. Lin has added an excitement and leadership that is amazing for a new player.
The Sixers have been seriously hampered by the injury to center Spencer Hawes. They were 12-2 with Hawes and 9-13 without him. Without Hawes, the Sixers have been losing the battle of the boards on both ends of the court.
On the offensive end they have been ineffective in the half-court offense. On the defensive end, they have been vulnerable to a guard driving the lane. In such plays, the guard has either conti X nued towards the basket or dished to a player open on the wing when the Sixers defense has collapsed inside to help out.
Hawes could miss another five games at the least. Since his injury has become chronic, it is not clear how he will hold up for the rest of the season. Some nights Lavoy Allen looks like a reasonable substitute for Hawes, but on other nights he looks like he shouldn’t be in the NBA .
It is unlikely that the Knicks will catch the Sixers in the coming week, since the Knicks have road games against the Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks . The two teams meet in The Garden on Sunday, March 11. That will give us a clue about the rest of the season.
But I’m looking at the game scheduled at Wells Fargo Center on March 21. If the Knicks win that game, I’d look for them to win the Atlantic Division. If not and Hawes can play at least 20 of the last 30 games, I see the Sixers squeaking out the Atlantic Division by a slim one- or two-game lead over the Knicks.