knicks nets winning streaks
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Just in time for our annual Christmas Day viewing of Rocky IV, the Knicks kick off a big NBA day when they host the rival Philadelphia 76ers.

The No. 5 Knicks have followed their eight-game winning streak with two losses and also trail the No. 6 Sixers in the Eastern Conference Race. They’ve already beaten them once on the road this season, coming from behind on Nov. 4.

Unfortunately for New York, Philadelphia is on a seven-game winning streak. Not only that, neither James Harden nor Joel Embiid played in that November tilt. The Knicks’ defense has been elite as of late, but still might need some Christmas magic this time around.

Time: Sunday, Dec. 25, 12:00 p.m. ET


Injuries: Obi Toppin (knee, out), Tyrese Maxey (foot, out)

Betting Line: Knicks +2.5, Over/Under 217.5 via DraftKings

Key Storyline: Can the Knicks find the Sixers’ winning weakness? Philadelphia’s hot streak is particularly impressive since it’s been accomplished without Tyrese Maxey, who was having a career season before injuring his foot. Yet, for a seven-game streak, the Sixers haven’t really beaten anyone significant. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Dec. 9: Needed overtime to defeat the aging and underachieving Lakers.
  • Dec. 11: Beat the last place Hornets, who didn’t have LaMelo Ball
  • Dec. 13: Beat an upstart, yet inexperienced Sacramento Kings
  • Dec. 16: Beat the Warriors who were without both Steph Curry and Draymond Green, and are 3-16 on the road this year.
  • Dec. 19: Needed overtime to defeat the Raptors, now a shell of a former championship team
  • Dec. 21: Beat the NBA-worst Detroit Pistons
  • Dec. 23: Rallied from behind to beat the Los Angeles Clippers at home, 119-114.

Seven consecutive wins, all at home, and of which only one is particularly impressive. It’s also worth noting the Sixers trailed the Clippers 63-51 at halftime. They were definitely figured out before coming back to win, and the Knicks must exploit this.

Key Matchup: Mitchell Robinson vs. Joel Embiid. There’s a very good chance that if the Knicks win this game, it will be on the boards. They’re third in the NBA in rebounding while Philadelphia is third worst at 28th. This is because both teams’ respective centers, Robinson and Embiid, are two completely different big men.

Robinson is a pure defender and rim protector, and anything but a volume scorer. Embiid is the reigning scoring champion and currently leads the league with 33 per game. He has range too, so Robinson has to be careful not to leave him open while also minding the paint.

X-Factor: Jalen Brunson. Brunson unquestionably led the Knicks’ offense during the eight-game winning streak, posting 20.1 points, 5.6 assists, and even 1.5 steals. Brunson also shot 42.3% from the field and 48.6% from three-point range.

He’s been almost a non-factor in the subsequent two losses, averaging just 9.5 points on 27.6% shooting. The silver lining are his 10.5 assists, but the Knicks really need his scoring to come back. Just how Mitchell Robinson needs to contain Joel Embiid, Jalen Brunson absolutely must keep up with James Harden. Hopefully, he can match or exceed the 23 points he hung on Philly in November.

Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), Quentin Grimes (SG), RJ Barrett (SF), Julius Randle (PF), Mitchell Robinson (C)

76ers predicted starters: James Harden (PG), De’Anthony Melton (SG), Tobias Harris (SF), P.J. Tucker (PF), Joel Embiid (C)

Prediction: The Knicks have to be extra motivated after Friday’s heartbreaking loss to Chicago. In true Rocky IV fashion, they’ll take the Sixers to their limit to kick off NBA Christmas Day. After the final buzzer, New York will have defeated Philadelphia in a squeaker. Knicks 109, Sixers 107

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.