Sixers-Knicks 5 things: Winnable game vs. skidding Knicks

Sixers-Knicks 5 things: Winnable game vs. skidding Knicks

The Sixers (10-25) face the Atlantic Division rival New York Knicks (17-21) on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Playoffs!?
The recent stretch of games has been kind to the Sixers, but good enough to start thinking playoffs?

If you’re Joel Embiid, the answer is yes. 

After putting up 20 points, five rebounds and four assists in the Sixers' 105-95 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, Embiid explained his belief that the Sixers can reach the postseason.

“I think we have a chance,” Embiid said. “We’ve been hot lately. ... We’re really figuring things out, we’re starting to learn how to win games.”

True. The Sixers have won three of their last four games and now sit 7½ games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

However, it may be a bit difficult to keep up this current run. Following Wednesday’s matchup with the Knicks, who have lost eight of their last nine, eight of the Sixers’ next nine games will be against teams with records above .500.

2. Reaching Rose
While the Sixers are thinking about the postseason, the slumping Knicks have been reduced to just figuring out where their players are at tip-off.

Point guard Derrick Rose missed the Knicks’ 110-96 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans at Madison Square Garden with the team unsure of his whereabouts. 

Rose rejoined the squad for practice on Tuesday and said he returned to his hometown of Chicago for family reasons. He spoke with Knicks officials and apologized to his teammates for going AWOL upon his return.

"It had nothing to do with the team or basketball," said Rose, who was fined by the Knicks. "That's the first time I ever felt like that emotionally and I had to be with my family."

Rose is expected to play on Wednesday night, but things haven’t exactly been going well for the veteran on the floor either. He’s averaging 14.8 points on 42.4 percent shooting from the field and 16.7 percent from three-point range over the last five games. Those numbers have caused him to be glued to the bench by head coach Jeff Hornacek for some recent fourth quarters.

We’ll see if Rose can block out the distractions and get back to business against the Sixers.

3. Chasson chasing his dreams
Speaking of point guards expected to see action Wednesday, Chasson Randle will likely make his NBA debut for the Sixers.

Randle signed a 10-day contract with the Sixers. The Stanford product previously averaged 20.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 19 games for the D-League’s Westchester Knicks this season. 

“I just want to bring a lot of energy on both ends of the floor, be aggressive, and try to make plays out there and be a great teammate because we’ve got a lot of great guys here,” Randle said after his first practice. “I’ve only been here 24 hours, but I can just tell these guys are amazing.”

4. Injuries
Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Mindaugas Kuzminskas (illness) is a game-time decision for the Knicks.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost nine of their last 10 meetings with the Knicks.

• Kristaps Porzingis had 10 blocks in three games against the Sixers last season.

• Carmelo Anthony has averaged 23.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 30 career games against the Sixers.

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Jahlil Okafor

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor

Position: Center

Status for 2017-18: Guaranteed — $4,995,120

Okafor in 2016-17
Okafor's second NBA season was up-and-down from the start. He dealt with right knee soreness during training camp and appeared in only one preseason game.

Once the regular season began, he was in a fluctuating role of backing up Joel Embiid and starting when Embiid was out. In December, the Sixers experimented with starting Okafor and Embiid together. They were not able to work out the challenges of two true centers sharing the court, the same situation the Sixers faced last season with Okafor and Nerlens Noel.

Okafor's season took another turn in early January. Noel slid into the backup center spot and Okafor fell out of the regular rotation. Okafor started when Embiid did not play and moved back into the starting lineup consistently once Embiid was sidelined in late January.

In February, the Sixers looked to trade Okafor at the deadline. They came so close to reaching a deal that they benched him and held him out of a road trip to Charlotte.

Instead, the Sixers sent Noel to the Mavericks. At that time Embiid still was sidelined by what turned into a season-ending injury. Okafor had the starting role locked up until injuries struck yet again. Okafor missed the final 11 games of the season because of right knee soreness.

He played in 50 games, three fewer than his rookie season that was cut short by meniscus surgery in his right knee. Okafor's stats tell the story of a frequently-changing season: 13.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in 33 games as a starter compared to 8.6 points and 3.9 boards in 17 games off the bench.

"It was an interesting year, something that I'm proud to say I handled the right way," Okafor said. "I can lay my head at night and know that I feel like I handled everything professionally."

Signature game
Okafor's strongest performance of the season was Feb. 25 against the Knicks. He scored a season-high 28 points along with 10 rebounds. Okafor took over down the stretch of this near-comeback for the Sixers. He scored 11 points in the fourth, including a go-ahead basket with nine seconds left before Carmelo Anthony hit the game-winner. Okafor, whose biggest need for improvement is defense, pulled down eight boards in the first half.

Looking ahead to 2017-18
There are two important facets of Okafor's offseason.

The first is health. This month Okafor said he had not discussed surgery for his lingering right knee soreness. He plans to spend time receiving treatment at the Sixers' training complex this offseason.

The second is determining where Okafor will play next season. The Sixers still are open to trading Okafor if a deal works for both player and team. Okafor has maintained he is happy being a member of the Sixers, and the Sixers have echoed they will welcome him back for a third season if a trade does not happen. How he would fit into the system would remain to be seen.

On Okafor
"He has an appropriate fear where he recognizes this is a hell of an important summer." -

- Head coach Brett Brown

"If a deal comes along that makes sense for both of us, then we'll go ahead and make the deal. But we're not in a race to make any decisions. We're taking a very measured toward path success and building an organization."

- President of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo

"The ability to expand his game is the exciting part for me. For us to say, 'This is Jahlil and that's only Jahlil and this is all he will ever be,' is just sort of unfair and not true."

- Brown

NBA Playoffs: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook to eliminate Thunder

NBA Playoffs: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook to eliminate Thunder

HOUSTON -- James Harden had 34 points and his supporting cast helped the Houston Rockets overcome a 47-point game by Russell Westbrook to get a 105-99 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

The Thunder head home a year after advancing to the Western Conference finals after Houston took this series 4-1.

The Rockets used a 5-1 run, with all their points coming on free throws, to pull away from the Thunder and make it 98-91. Victor Oladipo threw a pass about 5 feet above Westbrook's head and out of bounds on the next possession and Harden made a layup on the other end with about 3 minutes left.

The Rockets began eating up the clock after that and Oklahoma City missed shot after shot that could have closed the gap.

Houston couldn't add to its lead though and the Thunder cut it to 4 points twice in the final seconds, with the second one coming on a basket by Alex Abrines. But Harden made two free throws both times they got close to secure the win (see full recap).

Leonard leads Spurs by Grizzlies for 3-2 series edge
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard had 28 points and the San Antonio Spurs rebounded from two discouraging road losses to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 116-103 on Tuesday night and take a 3-2 lead in their first-round series.

San Antonio shot 14 for 28 on 3-point attempts, two off its postseason record, including 5-for-7 shooting by Patty Mills.

Mills finished with 20 points and Tony Parker added 16.

Mike Conley had 26 points and Marc Gasol added 17 for the Grizzlies, who have lost nine straight postseason games in San Antonio.

With each team winning on its homecourt, Game 6 is Thursday night in Memphis.

The Spurs went on an 11-0 run shortly after switching Leonard onto Conley defensively, holding the Grizzlies scoreless for 2:46 midway through the first quarter.

But it was the few times either team had success defensively (see full recap).

Jazz beat Clippers on road to take 3-2 series lead
LOS ANGELES -- Gordon Hayward scored 27 points, Utah controlled the paint, and the Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers 96-92 on Tuesday night to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Hayward returned after missing most of Utah's win in Game 4 because of food poisoning that caused him to lose weight and energy.

Chris Paul's 3-pointer drew the Clippers within two with 5 seconds left. After George Hill hit two free throws, Paul struggled getting the ball under control near the sideline and couldn't do anything as time expired.

The Jazz made five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, including three by Rodney Hood, who finished with 16 points.

Paul led the Clippers with 28 points and J.J. Redick added 26 with injured star Blake Griffin watching from the bench, his right foot encased in a black walking boot.

The Jazz can clinch the series with a victory in Game 6 on Friday night in Salt Lake City (see full recap).