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Game #11 Preview: Wolves vs. 76ers

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The Wolves play a bad third quarter team! Hooray!

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Minnesota Timberwolves Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

What: Philadelphia 76ers (2-9) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-7)

Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minn.

When: 7:00 PM CST (TV coverage on TNT)

It’s like deja vu for me. In the last preview I wrote, the Timberwolves were coming off a loss in which a dreadful third quarter performance doomed them.

And here we are again.

After taking a 12-point lead into halftime Tuesday night against Charlotte, the Wolves were outscored by 19 in the third quarter and were unable to fight back in the final period.

Reaction from both head coach Tom Thibodeau and the players was slightly different after this loss. It was as if the final straw had been grabbed or the weak branch had snapped. The team seemed to embody a mantra that read “I’ve had enough of this crap.”

The Wolves have an excellent opportunity to straighten those third quarter deficiencies against the Philadelphia 76ers tonight, who just happen to rank 28th in the NBA in third quarter net rating. That looks bad on the surface — and, in reality, it is — but when comparing it to the Wolves, there’s hardly a comparison. Here’s the bottom three ranked NBA teams in third quarter net rating.

  • 28th: Philadelphia 76ers (-14.7)
  • 29th: Brooklyn Nets (-22.1)
  • Nets and 76ers combined (-36.8)
  • 30th: Minnesota Timberwolves (-37.0)

Minnesota’s third quarter net rating is worse than the next two worst teams combined. That’s how hysterically dreadful the Wolves have performed in the third quarter through 10 games. The Wolves are also the only team in the NBA that has a positive net rating (1.12) and a losing record. I guess they have that going for them?

In order to end the four-game homestand on a positive note, the Wolves will have to contain Joel Embiid in his first career appearance at Target Center. Philadelphia was able to defeat the struggling Washington Wizards last night despite Embiid sitting out in preparation for the back-to-back slate.

“The Process” leads Philadelphia in scoring (18.0 ppg), rebounding (7.3 rpg) and blocking shots (2.3 bpg) despite playing just 22.1 minutes per game, which is seventh on the team. At this point, if there is any young star that rivals Karl-Anthony Towns in terms of talent and potential, it’s Embiid.

But Embiid isn’t the only talented big man in the 76ers lineup. Rookie stretch 4-man Dario Saric has arguably been the second-best rookie in the NBA this season behind Embiid, averaging 10.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting over 40 percent from the arc.

Unfortunately for 76ers fans, Jahlil Okafor will take his turn and rest tonight after dropping 19 points in last night’s win. However, Ersan Ilyasova is another big (literally and figuratively) perimeter threat at the power forward position and it appears he will start again after earning his first start as a Sixer last night.

The television product of Embiid and Towns sharing the floor together will undoubtedly be fantastic, which is probably why the game will be televised nationally on TNT. I’ve been giddy thinking about this for a long time, quite honestly.

This brings me back to the third quarter. By and large, media and fans outside of Minnesota are puzzled by the Wolves’ disappointing start. Tonight, they might finally understand the struggles — self-destruction in the third quarter combined with repetitive defensive lapses have been a factor in every loss this season.

On paper, the Wolves should win this game. But given the several anomalies that characterize the Wolves this season, nothing would surprise me at this point.

Expected Starting Lineups

Timberwolves

PG - Ricky Rubio

SG - Zach LaVine

SF - Andrew Wiggins

PF - Gorgui Dieng

C - Karl-Anthony Towns

76ers

PG - Sergio Rodriguez

SG - Gerald Henderson

SF - Robert Covington

PF - Ersan Ilyasova

C - Joel Embiid

Injuries

Timberwolves: Brandon Rush (toe) and Shabazz Muhammad (knee) both QUESTIONABLE. Nikola Pekovic (ankle) is OUT.

76ers: Nik Stauskas (ankle) is QUESTIONABLE. Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jahlil Okafor (rest) are OUT.

Four Factors

Let’s take a quick peek at how the Wolves and 76ers match up using the Four Factors. As a quick refresher, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).

Factor / Wolves / Sixers

eFG% / 51.9% / 49.2%

TOV% / 14.7 / 16.9

ORB% / 28.8% / 18.8%

FTR / .326 / .231

The Wolves continue to impress in these particular statistical categories, despite falling to a 3-7 record. They hold the advantage over Philadelphia in each of the four factors, so it would take a rare set of events for Minnesota to falter at home tonight.

But it’s not like we haven’t seen that this season, right? Let’s hope that playing a bad third quarter team can dissolve some of Minnesota’s issues in that period.

PREDICTION: Wolves 116, Sixers 104