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Game Preview #61: Wolves vs 76ers

Joel Embiid and his 76ers return to Target Center — with James Harden in tow — for the first time in front of fans since his infamous brawl with Karl-Anthony Towns.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (32-28) vs Philadelphia 76ers (35-23)
  • When: 7:10 pm CT
  • Where: Target Center
  • TV: Bally Sports North Plus / NBA League Pass
  • Radio: 830 WCCO AM Radio
  • Line: Wolves +2.5 | O/U 229.5

What to Watch For

A Hostile Environment

Nearly 27 months ago, 2022 NBA All-Star Team Durant teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid got into it in the third quarter of a blowout Sixers win in Philadelphia.

Tonight, 849 days later, Embiid and the Sixers are taking the floor at a COVID-restriction-less Target Center for the first time since the fight, and are bringing reinforcements. If the Wolves’ Blackout Wednesday home win over Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat was any indication, Wolves faithful doesn’t forget.

Towns is having a career year leading Minnesota back into the playoffs. As a result, he has regained public approval from some sectors of the fan base that idiotically considered whether trading the 7-foot, former No. 1 pick was the most prudent path forward. With unilateral support secured, I have no doubt that the Friday night crowd in Downtown Minneapolis will be raucous and eager to lay it on the Sixers’ MVP candidate. Given that Towns played only 28 minutes last night, he’ll be ready to roll as well.

Philadelphia 76ers Introduce James Harden

James Harden’s Debut

The newest member of the Sixers — James Harden — is set to make his debut in the red, white and blue tonight after being acquired in a trade deadline blockbuster that sent Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Paul Millsap and Harden.

Simply put, Harden and Embiid are two of the most dominant offensive players not just in the league, but in the history of the league. They have also consistently been two of the highest usage players in the NBA, so it will be interesting to see how head coach Doc Rivers manages the focus of the offense tonight.

How they will mesh on offense is the most talked about aspect of the pairing’s prospects, but it is their defensive synergy, rather, that will determine what heights they can ultimately ascend to. Harden has traditionally switched in ball screen actions on defense, while Embiid has almost exclusively played drop coverage.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

If they do play drop coverage, expect D’Angelo Russell — fresh off a season-high 37 points — to feast. Russell accounted for 31 of Minnesota’s 35 fourth-quarter points last night (23 points, eight points off assists) in a public undressing of the Memphis Grizzlies’ drop coverage.

If he brings that same intensity and mission to attack the rim tonight, it will be tough on the Sixers’ defense to get enough stops to get a win tonight.

Battle on the Boards

Last night, Minnesota allowed an NBA season-high 26 offensive rebounds to a much bigger Memphis team, yet, somehow, managed to hold the Grizzlies to 27 second chance points. Tonight, Chris Finch’s group faces another bigger team in Philadelphia. Despite their size, and every night deploying one of the toughest players to box out in Embiid, the Sixers rank 27th in second chance points per game (11.2) and last in offensive rebound percentage (24.3%)

The Wolves will get a rebounding battle result similar to last night if they don’t find some answers on the boards quickly. Luckily for Minnesota, Embiid’s former backup and one of the most prolific rebounders in NBA history — Drummond — is now a member of the Nets.

Philadelphia has been the better defensive rebounding team this season (71.8% of missed opponent shots rebounded), but Minnesota’s elite offensive rebound percentage of 29.3% vaults them ahead of the Sixers in overall rebound percentage (48.9% — 23rd — to 48.5% — 26th).

You would think that if Philadelphia isn’t crashing the offensive glass that they would get back in transition to effectively stop teams on the fast break, but they don’t really do that, either. The Sixers allow 14.2 fast break points per game (28th) just ahead of the Wolves’ 13.8 mark (27th).

The team that can most effectively capitalize on the others’ weakness on the glass and in transition will come away victorious.

Status Reports



  • Malik Beasley (Non-COVID illness)
  • Leandro Bolmaro (G-League assignment)
  • McKinley Wright IV (left UCL injury)



  • Charles Bassey (G-League assignment)
  • Charlie Brown Jr. (G-League assignment)
  • Myles Powell (G-League assignment)
  • Jaden Springer (G-League assignment)

Gambling Pick

I tweet out a gambling pick before every Wolves game over on my Twitter @jrborman13. So far this season, I am 28-31 (47%).

Tonight’s play: Joel Embiid over 11.5 rebounds

  • Over 11.5 rebounds in seven of his last nine games
  • MIN last in defensive rebound rate
  • Stays around the rim in drop coverage
  • Averaging 13.6 RPG in his last five games, 12.6 in his last 10.
  • 14 rebounds vs MIN in first matchup