DETROIT — When the Knicks face the 76ers on Christmas Day at Madison Square Garden, it will mark the seventh time in the last eight years that the team has played on the holiday.
It also will mark the end of an easy early schedule for the Knicks, who are 15-5 at home and 2-10 on the road. After Christmas, they will play 16 of their next 20 games on the road, a stretch that could determine their positioning for a potential playoff run.
Right now, the Knicks have exceeded expectations on multiple levels. Gone is the drama and unease of the Phil Jackson triangle years. In its place is a tight-knit group of players who seem to believe in each other and the style of offense they are playing.
Enes Kanter, who played in his fair share of Christmas Day games with Oklahoma City, said the Knicks will bring their best for the nationally televised game.
“Of course we are ready, man,” Kanter said. “If you look at this team, this team has the talent in the room to beat every team on the floor. We just have to learn to figure it out and work on the little details and go out and compete. That’s it.”
Christmas Day games have been a part of the NBA since 1947, when the Knicks defeated the Providence Steamrollers, 89-75. But it wasn’t until the last few decades that the league began packaging and marketing them as a special event, at first in doubleheaders, then with tripleheaders and most recently in five-game bunches.
This will be the first time in 16 years that the 76ers have played on Christmas Day. The Knicks played the Celtics last season and lost, 119-114.
As different as this team’s aura is from last season’s team, one thing is oddly the same. The Knicks’ 17-15 record heading into this Christmas Day game isn’t much different from their 16-13 record heading into the game last season.
This, more than anything, shows just how quickly fortunes can turn. The Knicks’ loss to the Celtics on Christmas Day began a stretch in which they went 1-9 and basically lost all hope of being a competitive team. With all the road games ahead, they don’t want that to happen again.
For at least one day, the Knicks are going to concentrate on the good times and trying to make this a Merry Christmas.
“It’s always fun to play on Christmas Day. It’s always a big game,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “I remember last year we were playing against Boston. It was really fun. We lost the game, but it was a good experience. My whole family is here again. It’s going to be a fun game against Philly. They’re a young team that’s fun to watch and I think we’re the same way, so it’s going to be entertaining.”
Kanter agrees. “It’s a Christmas game and everybody’s excited to watch it and this and that,’’ he said, “but I think just you cannot let outside things distract us. We just need to go out there and play our game and just don’t listen to this and that, whatever. It’s going to be a fun day to play. We are really blessed to play in that game on that day. Just play our game.”
Notes & quotes: The Knicks did not practice on Saturday after playing back-to-back games against Boston and Detroit . . . The 76ers hope Joel Embiid — who has missed three straight games with back pain — will be able to face the Knicks. Embiid, who is averaging a team-best 24.1 points and 11.0 rebounds, has yet to play since logging a career-high 49 minutes in the triple-overtime loss to Oklahoma City on Dec. 15.