After gutting out a victory against the Heat on Wednesday night, the seventh-seed Sixers will face the second-seed Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.

With a tough matchup ahead, here are four keys for the Sixers to be able to beat New York:

1) Joel Embiid’s Health

On Wednesday night, Embiid struggled from the floor and looked tired early. However, it was only his 6th game back and he’s still working on his conditioning. But even at 75%, Embiid can still be the best player on the floor.

It all depends on whether Embiid can learn to trust his knee and get past the mental scare. The Knicks have no center who can guard him one-on-one, so he needs to drive, play in the lane, and draw fouls. Regardless of what is thrown at him, he’ll still get his.

The scheduling of this series allows for multiple two-day breaks, which will give his knee time to recover between games. Yes, he’s still going to mess with the brace and look tired. But, he can’t let himself give into the trend of having mopy body language when things go wrong (which he did a good job of not doing against Miami). The most important key to the Sixers winning this series is if Joel Embiid is Joel Embiid.

2) Limit Jalen Brunson 

Jalen Brunson has come into his own since joining New York. The first time All-Star has become a wizard on offense. Luckily, the Sixers have a plethora of players who can take the Brunson assignment.

One could assume Kyle Lowry would spend the most time guarding him, especially in the absence of De’Anthony Melton. If that’s true, it will be fun watching Lowry pester Brunson all series. They can’t ‘stop’ him, but even taking away his pick-and-rolls and driving lane could throw New York’s offense out of whack.

3) Role Players Need to Step Up

The main reason the Sixers were able to achieve their comeback win on Wednesday was the outstanding play of Nic Batum off the bench. Batum stepped up, but we can’t expect him to have 20 every game. The Sixers are going to need their role players to shine, especially Harris, Oubre, and Hield.

The Knicks will throw everything they have at Embiid and Maxey to make the other guys beat them. This series is a big test for the supporting cast to show whether the Sixers can be a legitimate contender.

4) Rebound, Rebound, Rebound

One of the biggest reasons the Sixers trailed so quickly on Wednesday was their insistence on giving up offensive rebounds. One too many times did we see the Heat out hustling them on the boards. Unfortunately for the Sixers, who seem to have struggled all season with this, the Knicks are the best offensive-rebounding team in the league.

The Sixers have to do their best to limit New York off the glass and be ready for the dogfight they’ll face underneath the basket.

Game one of this best-of-seven series tips off Saturday at 6 pm in Madison Square Garden.

Photo: Jesse Garrabrant/Getty Images

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