Knicks vs. 76ers first-round preview and prediction for 2024 NBA Playoffs

It came down to the final game of the season, but despite losing two co-stars for half of it, Jalen Brunson and the Knicks are going into the playoffs with 50 wins and the No. 2 seed.

After the 76ers' win over the Heat in the 7-8 matchup of the Play-In Tournament, they’ll travel to New York to begin the first round on Saturday, with a healthy Joel Embiid in tow.

We haven’t seen these versions of the Atlantic Division rivals compete during the regular season. New York beat Philly with both teams fully healthy, split two starless contests and beat them once with OG Anunoby but no Julius Randle or Embiid.

As with most competitive series, this one will come down to the margins, the slightest final adjustment to give one team the edge. Let’s break down what that margin might be, and who will take the series.

Stopping the stars

The Knicks will prioritize slowing down the combination of reigning MVP Embiid and the likely Most Improved Player and All-Star Tyrese Maxey. They’re two deep in strong NBA centers to put on the big man and will rely on Donte DiVincenzo, Deuce McBride and their surrounding help for Maxey.

Expect Anunoby to be deployed situationally against Philly’s two stars. In his two matchups with the 76ers, he’s played free safety off Tobias Harris without issue, and the Knicks will likely open games this way and adjust accordingly. 

Anunoby will wreak havoc off-ball and be a key helper onto Embiid down low. New York can trust others to rotate behind him and shut down open looks. 

Philly will throw Kelly Oubre Jr. and Kyle Lowry -- two of their bigger bodies on the perimeter -- at Brunson. Having Embiid as the opposing five-man defender will help disrupt Brunson’s beloved center pick-and-rolls, so expect him to go to wing screeners, especially ones Maxey is guarding, early and often. 

Brunson will need to create under pressure as the Sixers prefer other Knicks to beat them. Making pocket passes to the short roll and effectively being able to dribble past the blitz man to find someone on the weak side throughout the series will be crucial.

Ancillary offense

As much as stars run the league, which second, third and fourth options step up can swing a series as much as their lead options. This is especially relevant for the Knicks, with shaky secondary creation options against a two-headed offensive monster in Embiid and Maxey. 

Philly has the explosive Oubre as backup and can count on a random eruptions from one of their other guys -- like Nicolas Batum in the Play-In. The Knicks’ leading scorers behind Brunson since the Randle injury were DiVincenzo, Josh Hart and McBride. 

Mar 8, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo (0) celebrates in the first quarter against the Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden.

Not to discredit to those names, but they aren’t playoff-reliable on the pick-and-roll or in isolations. The Knicks will have to work overtime to get a healthy diet of good looks for them and Brunson.

They started that process in the regular season, using Brunson as a decoy and playing him off-ball like Stephen Curry. But step-ups from DiVincenzo and Bojan Bogdanovic would be crucial in getting the Knicks enough points to pull away with this.

The biggest X-factor may be Anunoby, who many once hoped would be a future Kawhi Leonard, or at the very least a 20-points-per-game scorer. He’s shown flashes in Toronto and New York, but can’t lightly contribute 12 and 15 if the Knicks want to do well this series.

Late-game execution and target basketball

Few plays are unknown to the opposition and everybody knows what each other wants to do. It’s when legs are tired and stars are left to win games in the final moments that series like these are decided. 

To that point, we’ll likely see these two teams engage in “target basketball,” meaning Philly will attack Brunson every trip down and New York will attack Maxey in turn. We saw this in multiple matchups, and it will bring out layers of on-the-fly adjustments. 

Brunson will call for screens from Maxey’s man to attack him in pick-and-roll coverage. Philly will counter with multiple different defenses, try and switch Maxey on the back line prior to the screen, and even blitz Brunson as soon as he crosses halfcourt.

The 76ers will attack Brunson by doing the same with his man on Maxey pick-and-rolls. They’ll send Embiid to screen for Brunson’s man and run him off multiple screens in set plays.

How these teams fare in grinding out tough buckets in crunch time will ultimately decide the series. Philly had the eighth-best net rating in the final three minutes of a five-point game this season, and New York was just 14th on the year -- worse after the Randle injury. 


This won’t be an easy series for either team. The Knicks have been able to compete with anybody -- even without Randle -- but lack the star power to overcome the 76ers.

Philadelphia in 7.