Sitting pretty at the top of the Eastern Conference, the Sixers are on the road again on Friday night as they travel to Memphis face the 4-13 Timberwolves. It’s been a big week for Rivers and his team, who rebounded from a ‘trap game’ in Detroit to hand the Lakers their first road loss of the season in stunning fashion. The key now is to ensure that they keep the foot on the gas.
If there was ever a trap game, facing the NBA’s worst offense and the 27th ranked defense is about as suss as it gets. While it’s tempting to start giving more minutes to guys like Tyrese Maxey and Isaiah Joe straight off the bat, ensuring that the game is in control first and foremost has to be the priority.
The big question here is going to be whether or not Joel Embiid plays. He was off the injury report for Wednesday’s game against L.A, but a ferocious challenge from LeBron James in the third quarter raised pulses of Sixers fans everywhere. Embiid kept playing, ending his night with 28 points, 4 assists, 6 rebounds, and a pair of blocks. The big man has been playing like a true MVP candidate this season and losing him tonight would be a real thorn in their side, although if it means resting him for more important games, it makes sense.
Embiid has been absolutely vital to the teams’ red-hot start and without him, they’re winless on the road at 0-3. JoJo averages 22 points and 9 boards per game against the Timberwolves, so replacing that production won’t be easy if he is indeed sidelined.
Mike Scott will also be out on Friday due to a knee injury that has caused him to miss seven straight. Terrence Ferguson remains absent due to personal reasons.
They won’t be the only short-handed team, though. Minnesota has been without Karl Anthony-Towns since January 13th due to his COVID-19 diagnosis. KAT averaged 22 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists in 4 games before missing time, but you really have to feel for him after all he’s endured this past year. It’s bigger than Basketball and hopefully, we see him back on the court soon.
Naz Reid has been filling in for KAT and has done an admirable job, but one has to wonder whether the Sixers will shake things up and either give Dwight Howard the starting minutes, or instead shuffle Ben Simmons inside. This wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, we’ve seen it before and he continues to wreak havoc in the paint anyway.
D’Angelo Russell may also still be sidelined with a quad injury. There’s a huge drop-off in talent behind KAT and Russell, with Ricky Rubio being the next man up at PG.
The Wolves will also be without their 6th overall pick from 2019, Jarrett Culver, for the second game in a row due to an ankle injury, whose form has been sporadic this year. He’ll join Juancho Hernangomez on the bench, who is currently working through COVID protocols.
Sixers Keys to the game
The Sixers have to ensure that they don’t come out flat like they did against the Pistons earlier this week. Off of a high-energy win over L.A where Ben Simmons turned it up, there’s a good chance the team will need him to do that again if Embiid is sidelined.
It’s often been the second unit that digs the team out of an early hole, but the starters need to ensure that there is no ‘sloppy period’ where perimeter defense ceases to exist, turnovers are aplenty, and fouls rack up quickly. The starts simply have to approach this one with the same discipline they showed in the huge win over L.A.
Tipoff is at 8PM EST. Stay locked in to Philly Sports Network for post-game coverage!
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire