Finally, a New York-Philadelphia basketball game that actually means something. It's been a while since the Knicks and 76ers have played anything resembling an important game against each other, and while tonight's game isn't crucial, it should be a good test for both teams. Although there isn't much difference between finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference or seventh, both teams would like to finish ahead of the other. Tonight, the Knicks come in just a half game behind the Sixers for the sixth seed, with the teams tied in the loss column as the Knicks come in at 39-38, with the Sixers at 40-38.
A win total in the forties isn't something to write home about, especially in the devoid of quality Eastern Conference. But it's been exactly a decade since a Knicks team reached that plateau, when they went 48-34 in 2000-01 under Jeff Van Gundy. A small step for the franchise yes, but it is a testament to the work General Manager Donnie Walsh has done in rebuilding the Knicks. Getting that 40th victory against the 76ers and leapfrogging them in the standings could give the Knicks a good bit of confidence, as they already come in on a four game winning streak.
Yet tonight will be a different test for the Knicks than the past three games have been. Doug Collins has done a spectacular job with Philadelphia this year, and while he won't win the award, deserves to be in the discussion for NBA Coach of the Year. It'd be hard to find someone who predicted the Sixers could finish above .500 this season, and they looked primed to do so. Despite being one of the league's youngest teams, they're one of the most balanced, with six players averaging double figures in scoring this season. A win at the Wells Fargo Center for the Knicks would be a rare occurrence, as the Sixers are 25-12 at home this season.
It will be interesting to see if Mike D'Antoni treats this game any differently than last night's given the circumstances and impact on the standings. Last night, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups sat the entire fourth quarter, even when it got a little too close for fans' liking. It was the prudent move. Will Amare Stoudemire be the one to sit extended minutes tonight? If the game is close throughout, how will D'Antoni manage the minutes of his superstars? Would he rather keep the team on a roll, or make sure they're in tip-top shape come the postseason? Tonight's game, with some implications, should provide a peek into the mind of the Knicks' head coach.