Wolves (21-22) at Sixers (28-16)
Ever since the Wolves made their big trade in November, we’ve all had this game circled on the calendar. Minnesota rolls into Philly for the big tilt tonight. We all know what we’re looking forward to tonight. A one time centerpiece faces off against their old team tonight after being sent away.
That’s right, Dario Saric makes his triumphant return to Philadelphia tonight. Who knows what to expect? Well, we all do, actually. Both Dario Saric and Robert Covington are likely to receive massive ovations. They’re going to get those ovations for one simple reason, they were (and still are) great teammates. They were around during some rough, rough times in Philadelphia, and stayed around to help them complete The Process ahead of schedule and make the playoffs last season. RoCo won’t be playing tonight, but he made the trip anyways to come back and be there tonight.
Since Minnesota’s trade with Philly where they shipped out a grumpy wing player for RoCo and Dario, the two teams have been on similar paths.
A “since the trade” update because the Wolves face off against Jimmy Butler and the 76ers tonight:— Charlie Johnson (@cjohnsNBA) January 15, 2019
-Wolves: 17-13 // 110.9 ORTG (10th) // 107.2 DRTG (10th) // +3.7 NETRTG (7th)
-76ers: 20-10 // 112.3 ORTG (8th) // 109.2 DRTG (15th) // +3.2 NETRTG (10th)
As you can see, the Sixers have been a slightly better offensive team, while the Wolves have been a better defensive team. The main reason that the Wolves have a worse record over that span, despite having the superior net-rating, is their horrendous clutch play (-28.1 net-rating).
Every game is extremely important for Minnesota, given the cluttered Western Conference playoff picture. They have been terrible on the road this year, so this would be a big victory for the Timberwolves.
The matchup to watch tonight is the battle of two of the best young bigs in the NBA: Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. Towns has the more complete offensive arsenal, but Embiid has been the far superior defender to this point in his career. KAT has made great strides on that end of the floor recently, posting the best D-rating in the NBA since Christmas.
Since 12/26/18 -- 90 players have played 5+ games & are averaging 30+ minutes -- none of them have a better defensive rating than Karl-Anthony Towns.— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) January 14, 2019
ORTG -- 117.1 (#11)
DRTG -- 100.0 (#1)
NetRTG -- +17.1 (#4) pic.twitter.com/VnvQoGnQDE
The biggest challenge Embiid will pose on Towns tonight will be defensively. Towns needs to find a way to effectively defend Embiid without fouling. This is easier said than done, since the man nicknamed “The Process” uses his world-class footwork to shoot an average of 10 free throw per game. Towns has a propensity for getting himself into foul trouble, and Embiid will certainly test him in that sense.
The other big matchup for the Wolves will be how they defend Ben Simmons. The 22 year old Australian is one of the most unique players in the NBA. When Simmons is off the ball, whoever his defender is needs to be helping off as far as possible. There is absolutely no reason to ever defend him when he doesn’t have the ball. Most teams also play way off of Simmons when he has the ball. I understand why they do that, and it makes for hilarious photos like this one.
I would like to see the Wolves guard Simmons more closely when he’s on the ball. They should absolutely close-out extremely slow and controlled, but playing that far off of Simmons allows him to see the entire floor too easily.
He’s such a good passer, that it would benefit the Wolves to at least guard him a little bit to make the passes more difficult for him. The Sixers will almost never have more than one or two above average shooters on the floor at the same time, so their spacing should be terrible anyways. Taking away some of Simmons’ passing angles is worth it.
Also, Jimmy Butler will be at the game tonight. I’m looking for a play like this.