at MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Tip-off: Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
Everyone's favorite League Pass teams get together in Minneapolis.
The Philadelphia 76ers' fan base has to be thrilled with their team's start to the season, as PG Ben Simmons has looked uniquely dominant in his rookie season and C Joel Embiid has looked both dominant and sturdy (knock on wood) in his sophomore campaign. The club also has a bit of a new look after finally shipping Jahlil Okafor out of town, along with Nik Stauskas, in exchange for veteran PF Trevor Booker. As encouraging as it all has been, the Sixers have stalled a bit of late, having lost four straight entering a Tuesday night game at Minnesota. Two of those losses (Cleveland, New Orleans) are reasonable; two others (Phoenix, LA Lakers) are teams that even this young Philly team should expect to beat at this point. They'll get a challenge in Minnesota, though, a team that looks poised to compete for a top four playoff spot in the West. The Wolves have finally won two straight after a long pattern of one win, one loss: They beat lowly Clippers and Mavericks teams on the road and at home, respectively. Embiid and PG T.J. McConnell are questionable to play for the Sixers, and SF Robert Covington is considered doubtful.
Embiid was a late scratch with back stiffness against the Pelicans on Sunday, his second straight game off the court, and his absence surely contributed to the Sixers giving up so many points in a 131-124 loss. But he was thrilling the last time he was in the lineup, posting 33 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five blocks against the Lakers last Thursday. He played 31 games all of last season and has already played 21 this season, but Sixers supporters should be happy to see that the team is still being cautious with its franchise player. Its other franchise player, Simmons, has played in 25 of 26 games despite also returning from a serious injury last year. He was at his most brilliant against New Orleans, dropping 27 points, 10 assists five boards and a block. He's only a 57.3% free throw shooter—some believe he's even shooting with his wrong hand—but he hit seven of nine against New Orleans. Covington missed his first game of the year when he sat out on Sunday, and he represents a significant absence for Philly on both ends of the floor. The wing is averaging a career-best 15.3 PPG despite the emergence of Simmons and Embiid, largely thanks to the fact that he's shooting 42.7% from deep, up from a career 36.3% number. SG JJ Redick stepped up against the Pelicans with 28 points on only 14 shots. At 39.4% from three, he's more or less the same marksman he's always been. C Richaun Holmes has played at least 20 minutes and scored at least 12 points in the team's last three games.
With the tremendous talent that coach Tom Thibodeau has to work with in Minnesota, it always seems like maximizing it is never more than a work in progress. But the addition of established star SF Jimmy Butler over the offseason appears to have turned the team into a real contender. He's an old-school locker room leader, and a solidifying presence for a team that is still quite young. He's averaging 19.0 PPG for the season, but 25.2 through five games in December. He's been a strong all-around player as always, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out at least five assists in two straight games now. He's the team's defensive rock, too, as C Karl-Anthony Towns and SF Andrew Wiggins, while sometimes spectacular, are inconsistent in their defense. Towns is scoring less than last year—20.1 PPG down from 25.1 PPG—but still shows the same brilliance in individual games. He had 28 points and 12 rebounds against Dallas on Sunday. But in a loss to Memphis last Monday, he had seven points on only six shots in 38 minutes. Remember, he's still only 22. Wiggins is also 22, a fact easily forgotten since he's now in his fourth year in the league. Now the third scoring option on offense, he really does need to round out some of the other aspects of his game. PG Jeff Teague is a scorer, too, which isn't necessarily an ideal fit for this roster. He's made it work though, scoring when he needs to (19 points against LAC last Wednesday) and stepping back when he doesn't (nine points on Sunday). Like Butler, PF Taj Gibson is a strong veteran presence, and SG Jamal Crawford can still light it up off the bench at 37 years old. He had 16 points in 20 minutes on Sunday.