March 24, 2018, 4:43 pm
The Wolves had to fight until the bitter end to take care of the Knicks last night and they have a quick turnaround with the Sixers looming. That battle will certainly play a factor into this one, as four Wolves played over 38 minutes of game action, led by Karl-Anthony Town’s 41 minutes.
The idea that Tom Thibodeau could ease into this more high-profile contest in Philly was shot down by Tim Hardaway, quite literally. Hardaway scored 39 points against the Wolves and was hot from beyond the arc with six 3-pointers. He was a one-man wrecking crew for the punch-less Knicks and almost pulled off the victory.
The Wolves have a much tougher task ahead with the Sixers, a complex array of offensive talent and mismatches that throw traditional gameplans into the wind. The Sixers are tough to guard and even tougher to attack thanks to their superior length all over the floor.
The Sixers are fighting for playoff position in the East just as fiercely as the Wolves are fighting in the West, though the circumstances aren’t quite as dire. The Sixers are 9.5 games ahead of the ninth-seed and have all but secured their playoff hope. They’re currently jockeying for home-court advantage sitting just 1.5 games behind the Cavs for the third seed.
This contest will be a spirited affair, not only because of the playoff aspect but because of the battle between Joel Embiid and Towns in the middle. In the last matchup Embiid nearly went for a triple-double in the win and Towns stuffed the stat-sheet as well. Embiid is a charismatic figure on the floor as well, an expert in getting into opponents’ heads.
The Sixers are an intriguing team on a number of levels as a young core of players that shatter old-school schemes and play a brand of basketball that different even the most modern of NBA styles. Compare that to the Wolves who are about as old school as a team in this era can get and it’s sure to be an intriguing clash of talent.
The battle in the middle will be the most intriguing from a talent standpoint. Embiid and Towns are two of the most skilled big men in the NBA and both teams incorporate their young bigs in a number of ways offensively. Embiid is far ahead of Towns from a defensive standpoint, but Towns is ahead of Embiid from an offensive standpoint. That clash to see who prevails will be extraordinary to watch, but it’s not likely what the game will come down to.
The Wolves’ ability to slow down the supporting cast will be where the game ultimately is decided. Getting out on 3-point shooters, keeping Ben Simmons out of the lane and exploiting mismatches will be the key. The Sixers shoot the 10th-best percentage from 3-point range in the NBA, with Robert Covington, J.J. Redick and Dario Saric being the biggest threats in the starting lineup.
Saric, in particular, could be a problem. Every month this season Saric has improved his 3-point shooting to a point where he’s shooting nearly 40 percent on five attempts per game, including 48.3 percent in March.
The Wolves have a decision to make in their defensive matchups. With Teague locked-in on Redick and Towns on Embiid, that leaves Wiggins, Bjelica and Gibson for Covington, Simmons and Saric.
In the last matchup, Jimmy Butler drew the Simmons matchup and held him in check, but of late Simmons is looking for his shot fewer and fewer, steadily decreasing each month from 15.6 attempts per game in November to just 10.1 in March.
With Simmons looking to become more of a distributor (and for his complete lack of 3-point shot attempts), it perhaps makes more sense to shift Gibson onto Simmons and leave the deep-shooting threats of Saric and Covington to Bjelica and Wiggins, who are better suited to guard the 3-point line. Wiggins held Saric to just six points in their December 12 matchup.
The downside is Simmons is likely to have an easier time attacking off the dribble with superior foot speed and athleticism. Taj would be able to give Simmons plenty of space on the perimeter, though, and be a solid help defender and double-team option for Towns on Embiid.
Should Thibs decide to keep his best perimeter defender (Wiggins) on Simmons and let Gibson handle Saric, it could be a long night of Taj chasing down 3-point shooters.
Jeff Teague – PG
Andrew Wiggins – SG
Nemanja Bjelica – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
Ben Simmons – PG
J.J. Redick – SG
Robert Covington – SF
Dario Saric – PF
Joel Embiid – C
Jimmy Butler (knee) – OUT
Derrick Rose (ankle) – OUT
Markelle Fultz (shoulder) – OUT
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (knee) – OUT
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
When: 6:00 ET/5:00 CT
How: Fox Sports North