- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (34-32) at Philadelphia 76ers (42-22)
- When: 6:30 PM CT
- National TV: TNT (Ian Eagle, Jim Jackson and Chris Haynes)
- Radio: 830 AM WCCO
- Line: Wolves +2.5 | Total: 229 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
- Austin Rivers (neck soreness)
- Jaylen Nowell (left knee tendinopathy)
- Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf strain)
- James Harden (left foot soreness)
- Tobias Harris (left calf contusion)
- P.J. Tucker (back spasms)
- Louis King (G-League assignment)
- Mac McClung (G-League assignment)
- Jaden Springer (G-League assignment)
What to Watch For
Winners of their last three games, the Minnesota Timberwolves are in stride and look to accelerate further when they meet the Philadelphia 76ers this evening.
Philadelphia are 18-12 away from the City of Brotherly Love, as they look to notch win No. 19 on the road against a Minnesota team that not only sports a 20-14 record at home, but is also within one game of usurping the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference standings.
Since the All-Star break, the Wolves are No. 7 in the NBA with 26.6 assists per game, and they’ve excelled on the defensive end, coming in at No. 2 with both 9.0 steals and 7.8 blocks per contest across the association.
Meanwhile, the Sixers are clicking on all cylinders, and their experiment bringing Tyrese Maxey off the bench has worked wonders for head coach Doc Rivers and his troops. Tonight, Philly will suit up on the second night of a road/road back-to-back.
Here are several keys to the game:
Entice James Harden to Entice the Referees
When James Harden first arrived in Philadelphia toward the latter portion of last season, he got off to a fiery start alongside his new teammates. For the first time since his permanent switch to the point guard position, he was playing — and moving — without the basketball, catching and shooting, and bringing balance to a team that was clouded by the Ben Simmons fiasco.
Then, Harden resorted back to high usage and ball dominance in short order. They played a pivotal game against the Brooklyn Nets on March 10, 2022. The Nets held Harden to 3-17 from the floor for 11 points, to go along with five assists compared to four turnovers, with only two trips to the foul line. They found a way to disrupt Harden and get him to look to the refs for whistles to no avail. This is what Minnesota must do to neutralize Philly from whistle to whistle.
Face-guarding Harden with the Wolves’ best defender — Jaden McDaniels — will disrupt his flow, and revert him to being stagnant off the ball, typically on either wing. While the Sixers now have De’Anthony Melton in their starting lineup as a secondary ball handler, rendering Harden idle on offense has a great probability to permeate into his defensive intensity in the half court, and especially in transition.
When Harden drives, staying disciplined with one defender, as opposed to a full on convergence of help defenders will give Harden license to do his signature arm hook or ball thrust to generate contact. Bait and switch and force him to throw up bad shots.
Much easier said than done, as Harden remains one of the best all-around offensive players in the league. However, this has proven to be successful more times than once.
Keep up With Tyrese Maxey and the Second Unit
One of the leading candidates for NBA Sixth Man of the Year, Tyrese Maxey brings speed and stamina off the bench. His ability to run in the open floor with the basketball is special. Furthermore, he couples this with a blazing quick first step, and mature decision making with the basketball once he breeches the inside of the 3-point line.
He can stop on a dime, rise up for the floater, or seamlessly rim run for soft touches at the cup. Maxey gives the Sixers something they haven’t had in the Joel Embiid “Trust the Process” era: consistent high-level scoring off the bench. He can and often does burn teams from outside as well.
When the second units are on the floor, Philly typically likes to feature Maxey along with Montrezl Harrell at center, Shake Milton as his backcourt partner, Georges Niang and Furkan Korkmaz. The offense runs through Maxey, though he is not the only viable threat of the bunch. Controlling the tempo by taking the ball out of Maxey’s hand once past the half court line will pay dividends in minimizing his output. He is well beyond his years in creating space off the ball too, so he must be a focal point of attention.
And as an aside: Rivers favors a zone defense when his reserves take the court, so extending the floor on the offensive end may fare as a suitable counter.
Pick-and-Roll Joel Embiid to Death
On the offensive side, getting Rudy Gobert confidence early against the best scoring center in the NBA will establish tone and morale. Tire out the big man, who played heavy minutes in an up-and-down track meet in Indianapolis last night. Make him move his feet in every half court scenario. Add to his fatigue. Increased fatigue leads to careless fouls. Accumulation of such leads to less time on the court, and being one step closer to the bonus.
Embiid is such an exceptional defender that any potential weakness must be used against him, particularly when he is liable to score 40 points any and every night.
Extracting Embiid from the paint will also allow for resets, where a new play can be called on the fly once the switch takes place. In order for this to work, Anthony Edwards may need to be the ball handler in the screen-and-roll. Feeding the mid-block with Embiid on the exterior opens the door for backdoor cuts, as well as isolation opportunities — where the Wolves are No. 12 in the NBA with 7.3 points per game.