As the Western Conference continues to heat up while the regular season comes to a close, the Wolves’ schedule has now entered a much needed respite away from some of the best teams in the league. And it couldn’t have come at a better time, with the bottom half of the conference’s playoff contenders clamoring to rack up every single win they can in order to sneak into the playoff picture.
Tonight’s matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers is a little bit of an exception to that, because the Sixers are a team that has come into their own since early February, managing to work their way up to the fourth seed in the East. We all knew this was possible with the talent on Philadelphia’s roster, but the prospect of them remaining healthy and figuring it all out seemed unlikely at the beginning of the season.
But now they’re on a five-game win streak and knocking on LeBron’s door for third place in the conference. Granted, their recent stretch of wins have come against teams like New York, Charlotte and Orlando, but they’ve managed to beat those teams without exhausting their starters. Other than Ben Simmons’ 37 minutes against Brooklyn, no player on the Sixers’ roster has played more than 34 minutes in any given game during this streak. And I don’t think I need to tell you how the Wolves compare in that regard.
The Sixers have the tools to get hot from beyond the arc, which has proven to be one of Minnesota’s defensive issues this season. Players like J.J. Redick, Dario Saric and Robert Covington take and make a high volume of threes each game (not to mention Marco Belinelli and Jerryd Bayless coming off the bench), so it will be important for the Wolves to contain Philadelphia’s game on the perimeter.
With Ben Simmons running the show for the Sixers, they are very dangerous in transition and capable of quickly getting out into the open floor — another area of weakness for the Wolves. Meanwhile Philadelphia’s franchise cornerstone, Joel Embiid, will likely cause problems on both ends of the floor no matter what.
On the other side of things, the Wolves are coming off of a somewhat shaky win in New York last night, which saw them build a definitive lead only to lose it and fight to wrest it back in the second half. They can’t afford to play that kind of game against this Philadelphia team, especially considering how the last meeting between these two teams went back in December.
That matchup resulted in an overtime loss at home for Minnesota, despite a monster game from Jimmy Butler, whom the Wolves are still without. In that game, the Wolves were able to contain Ben Simmons all night thanks to Butler, but Redick was able to get free for 26 points while Embiid came up two assists shy of a triple-double.
I’m sure Karl-Anthony Towns will come in with a little extra heat tonight following the shade Embiid was throwing on social media at him after that game. KAT vs. Embiid has the potential to be an all-time great match-up, and watching these two players go up against one another is truly a treat. I think the result of this one will largely depend on whether or not KAT’s supporting cast will match the energy he comes in with. If the Wolves can manage to somehow contain Simmons without Butler on the court, much of this game will come down to how well the Wolves can fend off Philadelphia in the open court and behind the arc.