HOW HEALTHY DOES JO HAVE TO BE FOR SIXERS TO BEAT KNICKS?

By Harvey Hoffman

The second-best team in the East after Boston has been the Sixers with Joel Embiid.

They were 31-8 in the games he played.

Most of that came in the first half of the season— they were 25-6 when he played, 3-7 when he didn’t. Then he missed two months due to his left knee injury. The Sixers sank in the standings and, despite Tyrese Maxey and others stepping up, knew their postseason fate would hang on the 7-footer’s availability.

He’s back now and, though he isn’t in peak condition, he did have six games to ramp up for this series. He’s still a load, and the leisurely pace of this series — nine days to play the first four games — will be the best thing short of a spa stay to ease his aches.

New York has its own big man back in Mitchell Robinson. He and Isaiah Hartenstein will do what they can to hold their ground. The Knicks’ best overall defender, OG Anunoby (6-foot-7, 235), will best help elsewhere. So what are they to? Defy the trend in the playoffs and rev up their play. Though New York ranked last in pace, pushing the ball is its best chance of wearing out Embiid. Forcing him to play defense also is key. Then win the minutes he sits.

Here’s how to watch the Knicks vs. 76ers series:

Game 1: 76ers vs. Knicks, April 20 (6 p.m., ESPN)

Game 2: 76ers vs. Knicks, April 22 (7:30 p.m., TNT)

Game 3: Knicks vs. 76ers, April 25 (7:30 p.m., TNT)

Game 4: Knicks vs. 76ers, April 28 (1 p.m., ABC)

Game 5: 76ers vs. Knicks, April 30 (TBD, TBD)*

Game 6: Knicks vs. 76ers, May 2 (TBD, TBD)*

Game 7: 76ers vs. Knicks, May 4 (TBD, TNT)*

* = If necessary

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