September 27, 2022

Knicks play cordial guests at James Harden’s 76ers home debut

James Harden and the Sixers prove to be too much for the Knicks yet again. (Matt Slocum/AP)

PHILADELPHIA — The Knicks were cordial guests to a celebration of the 76ers and their spectacular new addition.

Philly fans showed out for James Harden’s first home game in Wells Fargo Center, and the Sixers treated their rowdy spectators Wednesday with a drubbing of the reeling Knicks, 123-108.

Harden dropped 26 points with nine assists and nine rebounds, reiterating he’s a better fit with the Sixers and more motivated since bolting the dysfunctional Nets. The Knicks (25-37) predictably blew a 16-point first half lead and folded in the second half, losing their sixth straight and their 16th of the last 19 games.

They’re last in the league in assists, with no natural point guard except second-round pick Miles McBride, and Tom Thibodeau acknowledged his options are limited.

“That’s the best we have, so that’s what we’re doing, and they’re capable,” the coach said.

The Sixers (38-23) are more capable.

Joel Embiid, the leading MVP candidate, quietly had 27 points and 12 rebounds. Tyrese Maxey burned the Knicks in the fourth quarter. Harden was Harden.

The Knicks already clinched a worse winning percentage than last season, and the play-in tournament, while still a possibility, is no longer worth writing about. As they start a five-game Western Conference swing in Phoenix on Friday, it’s safe to declare the Knicks’ season a wash. At the very least, it’s already in the spin cycle.

Still, Julius Randle tried to sell a play-in push after he scored 24 points Wednesday. The Knicks are five games out of the final spot with 20 remaining, and some fans are pushing for a tank into the draft lottery.

“I’m a glass half full guy,” Randle said. “Why wouldn’t we [compete for a play-in spot]? When we have an opportunity to compete for something, do it. Regardless of whatever situation we’re in right now, if you have a chance to compete for something, you keep competing. Even if you’re not playing for anything, you keep competing. At least me personally, it’s who I am.”

Randle’s squad at least appeared capable of winning Wednesday until the third quarter, which the Sixers won by 19 points. And as the game was nearing the final buzzer Wednesday, the Knicks became the sad joke when the PA system mockingly played the slogan of their early-season surge, “Bing Bong.”

“I feel like as a team there could be a lack of confidence, in general,” Randle said. “The league is tough. It’s tough to win games. It’s really hard. When you start losing a few in a row, it kind of kills the team spirit.”

The Sixers (38-23), who beat the Knicks earlier this week at the Garden, are a different story. The acquisition of Harden for Ben Simmons’ dead weight has boosted their title chances and rejuvenated the fanbase.

Wednesday was their festive atmosphere. Not only was Harden debuting in front of the home crowd, the night also represented the 60th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game with the Philadelphia Warriors.

That landmark performance was fittingly against the Knicks in 1962 in Hershey Park, PA, with Chamberlain logging 48 minutes with 25 rebounds.

Thibodeau got a kick out of the minutes.

“That’s my kind of guy,” the Knicks coach said.

The Sixers brought members of Chamberlain’s family to ring the Liberty Bell at midcourt, but the biggest pregame pop was during Harden’s introductory video on the Jumbotron. The atmosphere brought a big-game feel.

And the Knicks again came up small.

“We gave up 68 points in the second half, so I’m concerned about that,” Thibodeau said. “We gotta find a way to win. We’re doing some good things, but we’re not doing enough of them to win.”