NEW YORK – The 76ers’ Christmas Day matchup against the New York Knicks is bigger than any other game.
Not only is it a marquee matchup on the NBA’s biggest regular-season stage. The Sixers identified this game as the one to get back on a winning track.
“We have a chance to do something and start something in that second third [of the season], that middle third, to start fresh,” said coach Brett Brown, whose Sixers (14-18) have lost five straight games and nine of their last 10 matchups.
“That’s the message,” added Brown, who breaks his seasons into thirds. “So it just so happens to be on Christmas Day in Madison Square Garden on national television. That’s a pretty good set of circumstances to reclaim really who we are.”
The 12 p.m. ESPN game against the Knicks (17-15) marks the Sixers’ first Christmas appearance since an 88-82 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on 2001.
This matchup is a big deal, considering the NBA picks 10 of its best – or in the Sixers’ case, most fascinating – teams to showcase in five games on a national stage with the anticipating that folks around the world will watch from home.
“We are all excited about that, to play in front of the world you know it’s just has a plus to [be on Christmas],” Amir Johnson said. “So guys just have their heads up and are excited to play this game.”
The Sixers have shown they are still nowhere near the elite level of NBA teams. However, they do boast potential perennial NBA all-stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They’ll face a Knicks squad led by another potential perennial all-star in Kristaps Porzingis. That could be enough to draw people to their television sets.
However, as they tend to do for Embiid lately, the Sixers listed the center as questionable for the matchup. JJ Redick is also listed as questionable.
Embiid finished with 14 points in Saturday’s 102-86 loss to the Toronto Raptors after missing the previous three games with back tightness. Meanwhile, Redick has been sidelined the past two games with right hamstring tightness.
“It’s getting close, it’s getting close,” said Redick, who was a partial participant at practice. “We’ll see how it feels tomorrow. I’m trying to be smart, patient while also chomping at the bit a little bit.”
Embiid received treatment instead of practicing. The 23-year-old usually informs the Sixers if he’s able to play following his pregame workouts. However, one has to assume that he won’t pass up on an opportunity play on Christmas.
Brown, meanwhile, wants to show the Garden crowd and television viewers that his squad is much better than its recent skid indicates.
The coach sees the stretch from Christmas up to the all-star break, which begins on Feb. 15, as the second third of the season. His goal for the Sixers during that time is to cleanse themselves of the past losing.
“Losing isn’t a part of how we see the world,” Brown said. “There’s one layer that I got to try to keep our spirits up, but keep it incredibly honest.
“We aren’t accepting losing. This doesn’t represent who we are.”
He realizes that some might point to Embiid, Redick, and Robert Covington having missed time due to injuries as a contributor to the losses. But he reiterated that losers aren’t who the Sixers represent.
The Sixers will hold more frequent practices as a way to improve. They mostly had maintenance days instead of full-fledge workouts. It was a way to keep the workload down for players battling injuries and for their veterans.
“But we have to find ways to improve individually that will add up collectively and to obvious areas that need a little bit of growth,” said Brown, whose team leads the league in turnovers (18.4 per game) and tied for 26th in three-point shooting (35 percent).
“We need to be able to point to ways that we can improve,” he added. “It starts with just like team practice.”
Justin Anderson, despite being a full participant in Sunday’s practice, will remain sidelined with shin splints in his left leg. He’ll miss his 19 straight game on Monday.
The reserve forward aims to play in Thursday’s matchup versus the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center.