The New York Knicks (32-20) will welcome the Philadelphia 76ers (22-31) to Madison Square Garden Sunday evening for what will be the pair's final meeting of the 2012-13 regular season.
New York has been struggling mightily of late after dropping its last four games, and two of those losses came against the Toronto Raptors. One of those losses were at the hands of the Indiana Pacers who simply crushed the Knicks in every way possible.
The Knicks are currently the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and own a one-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets in the Atlantic Division.
Philadelphia has also been struggling, as it's dropped five of its last six contests after losing to the Miami Heat Saturday night. It's pretty clear this team is floundering more and more as the season goes on and the Sixers need their big man, Andrew Bynum.
The Sixers are on the outside looking in as far as the playoff race is concerned in the East as they trail the No. 8-seed Milwaukee Bucks by 3.5 games heading into Saturday's action.
The Knicks have won two of the three meetings between these two teams this season, but the Sixers got the better of the Knicks last time they faced each other on Jan. 26. With the way the Knicks are playing, this one could go either way.
Let's take a look at everything you need to know for this game.
When: Sunday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Watch: MSG, Comcast Sportsnet (Check local listings)
Live Stream: NBA League Pass
Key Injuries (Per ESPN.com)
Rasheed Wallace (Out, foot)
Marcus Camby (Out, foot)
Thaddeus Young (Questionable, hamstring)
Andrew Bynum (Out, knee)
Jason Richardson (Out, knee)
Key Players to Watch
J.R. Smith, SG
We already know Carmelo Anthony will get his points, but one problem the Knicks have is finding that secondary scorer to give Anthony some support.
Smith is the most likely candidate to play that role on a nightly basis and he's done a decent job doing so this season. However, Smith is very inconsistent and the word streaky comes to mind when describing his game.
The biggest key for Smith will be how many shots it takes for him to score a sufficient amount of points, and of course, the quality of his shot selection is always something to monitor.
Kenyon Martin, PF
Martin is the newest addition to the Knicks' roster after signing a 10-day contract and will bolster New York's frontcourt after injuries to Camby and Wallace continue to hurt the team.
According to Jonah Ballow of MSG Interactive, coach Mike Woodson said Martin looked good in practice on Saturday and could take the floor on Sunday.
Woodson says Martin looked pretty good in practice and he may play tomorrow night #Knicks— Jonah Ballow (@jonahballow) February 23, 2013
Nobody is expecting Martin to make a serious impact right away as he'll likely have to form into game shape slowly, but it'll still be interesting to see how good the 35-year-old looks on both sides of the floor considering he hasn't played a single game this season.
With Camby and Wallace continuing to be question marks, Martin's presence on this team is vital—specifically on defense—the rest of the way.
Jrue Holiday, PG
Everything the Sixers do on offense revolves around their star point guard, Holiday.
Not only is Holiday an incredibly important scorer with an average of 19 points per game, but he is also Philly's key facilitator with 8.8 assists per contest. Both of those totals are team highs this season.
Holiday's scoring numbers are down a bit this month, as he's averaging 16.4 points per game, and that's not a good sign for a team that ranks No. 29 in the NBA in points per game (92.2).
Granted, the Sixers will be able to slow the Knicks' offense down with their great defense, but they still must get Holiday going if they hope to beat the Knicks.
Evan Turner, SF
With Young's status uncertain for Sunday, the Sixers will need a little extra from Turner in order to give Holiday some support on the offensive end.
Turner has had a solid all-around season for Philadelphia as the 24-year-old is averaging 13.8 points, 4.3 assists and 6.6 rebounds in 36 minutes per contest. Those numbers are all career highs for Turner.
The Ohio State product is a threat to score from anywhere on the floor and should look to take advantage of the Knicks' weak interior defense. On the defensive end, Turner must make sure he plays his assignment tight, considering the Knicks love to shoot the three ball.
One Thing the Knicks Must Do: Play Interior Defense
The Sixers have no shortage of athletic players who can drive to the bucket and do damage on the inside, so it's extremely important that the Knicks don't allow the Sixers to do as they please in the paint.
Tyson Chandler is normally good at that, but sadly for New York, he can't play 48 minutes per game and that means someone else must step up (Martin?). If the Knicks can stop the Sixers from getting into the paint with ease, that will force Philly to shoot from the outside, which is not its strength.
One Thing the Sixers Must Do: Guard the Perimeter
The Knicks attempt more three-pointers per game than any other team in the NBA, and their success rate (37.7 percent) is good for No. 6 in the NBA. When the threes are falling for the Knicks, their chances of winning a game increase dramatically.
Philadelphia can stop that by staying tight on New York's shooters on the outside and forcing them to take contested shots. The Knicks are no doubt a jump-shooting team, so the Sixers must make sure they aren't getting open looks from anywhere on the floor.
Both teams are playing poorly right now and as I said earlier, this game could go either way.
Expect the Sixers to drive to the hoop early and often in order to take advantage of the Knicks' major weakness in the paint on defense, and Philly has the necessary defensive prowess to stop New York on the perimeter which should make this a tough game for the Knicks to win.
Final Score: Sixers 91, Knicks 87
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