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The New York Knicks' reward for earning the second seed in the Eastern Conference? A matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers and the NBA's reigning Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid.

It is unclear, however, how close Embiid will be to his MVP-caliber form. The Sixers fell to the seventh spot because he had surgery to address a meniscus injury in his left knee in February, and didn't return until April. Embiid's play toward the end of the regular season was encouraging, but he had to limp off to the locker room in Philadelphia's second-to-last regular-season game, sat out the finale and looked far less than 100% against the Miami Heat in the Play-In.

The Knicks had their share of injuries, too. On the same night in late January, Julius Randle suffered what turned out to be a season-ending shoulder injury and OG Anunoby hurt his elbow, which required surgery and sidelined him for 27 of their remaining 36 games. New York overcame this and finished 50-32, largely thanks to the brilliance of Jalen Brunson, who averaged 31.6 points on 58.5% true shooting (with a 35.6% usage rate) from February 1 onward.

Here's what you need to know ahead of Saturday's series opener.

76ers at Knicks

  • Date: Saturday, April 20 | Time: 6 p.m. ET
  • Location: Madison Square Garden -- New York
  • TV channel: ESPN | Live stream: ESPN app
  • Odds: Knicks -3.5; O/U 209.5


Knicks: New York isn't afraid of this matchup, and Brunson, who ended the regular season by scoring 35-plus points in six of the final seven games (and 30 in the other one), will surely test Philadelphia's stars defensively. Will Embiid be in a deep drop when Brunson runs high pick-and-rolls? Will the Sixers willingly switch Tyrese Maxey onto him? The Knicks should feel great about how they've played with Brunson and Anunoby on the court -- in 636 regular-season minutes, they scored 125 points per 100 possessions and allowed 101.7 per 100 -- but there could be some trepidation about the offense in the few minutes that Brunson is on the bench.

76ers: In theory, Philadelphia is a more complete team than it was when James Harden was around, but that's only remotely true if Embiid is at or near the top of his game. There are tons of smaller stories from the Sixers' regular season, but the two biggest ones are simple: Embiid got even better after his MVP season, and the team became less equipped to handle his absence. It is ironic, then, that while neither Embiid nor Maxey were great against Miami, they were saved by Nicolas Batum knocking down 3s and Buddy Hield attacking closeouts. Now that Philadelphia is facing a better opponent than that the undermanned Heat, can its stars and role players thrive at the same time? 


If healthy, Philadelphia is the biggest threat to the Boston Celtics in the East, but that's a mighty big if. Had Embiid not been seen ambling around uncomfortably earlier this week, it would have been much easier to pick the Sixers to win this game (and this series). After that, though, it feels almost disrespectful to pick against New York. The Pick: Knicks -3.5