The Sixers have now returned from their longest road trip of the year as they spent the past six games on the west coast. Despite going 2-4 on the road trip, there were a ton of positive takeaways on the road trip as the shorthanded roster competed in each difficult game.
While the moral victories are great, the Sixers must focus on getting back in the win column as their record has slipped to 10-9 on the season, which puts them tied for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. This focus will turn to the matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves, which will tip-off at 6:00 back in Philadelphia.
The Return of Joel Embiid
The largest reason for the Sixers’ struggles has been the absence of Joel Embiid. The Sixers superstar entered the health and safety protocols on November 8th after contracting Covid-19. Now nearly three weeks since being ruled out, Embiid seems ready to take the court for this Timberwolves matchup. Doc Rivers told media members that Embiid had a fairly tough time with the virus, and it is also very possible that the Sixers have been using this extra time to ensure his knee is healthy.
Embiid has struggled at times to start the season and is averaging 21.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 4 assists per game through the nine games that he has played in. All eyes will certainly be on “The Process” himself assuming he returns to the court.
The Sixers have officially listed Embiid as questionable ahead of the matchup. This has been the same process for each player returning from Covid protocols as they are put through a pregame workout before the official decision is made. As long as there are no issues during this, Embiid seems primed to make his return after his 8 game absence.
Who are the Timberwolves?
The Minnesota Timberwolves are 9-9 so far on the year, which places them at 8th place in the Western Conference. They rank first in the NBA in three-point attempts with 43.7 per game but only connect at a 33.5% rate (20th). It is also worth noting that the TWolves also rank third in the league in defensive efficiency and are 8th in opponents’ points per game. These defensive improvements are noteworthy by a team that has struggled on this end in the past.
The growth of Anthony Edwards has been extremely impressive early on in the year. Last year’s number one overall pick is leading the TWolves in scoring with 22.8 points per game. He has quickly grown into one of the focal points of the offense and also adds 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 36% from beyond the arc. Edwards has also made his name due to his ruthless dunks, which he throws down on a regular basis.
Karl-Anthony Towns is not far behind him in scoring as he averages 22.7 points per game. KAT also adds 9.1 rebounds and is the team’s best three-point shooter as he is shooting 44.2% on 6.3 attempts per game. D’Angelo Russell also plays a major role and accounts for 18.4 points and 5.7 assists per game. The Timberwolves will be without Pat Beverly, who is currently out with a groin injury.
What to Watch For:
The statuses of Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris will be the most notable storylines to watch leading up to game-time as each is listed as questionable. The Sixers are currently projected as 4 point favorites, but this number is likely to move depending on the status of the Sixers two stars.
One of the biggest takeaways of the recent time without Joel Embiid is how quickly Tyrese Maxey has progressed. In the last 8 games that the Sixers spent without Embiid, Maxey averaged 24.6 points, 4.5 assists, and only turned the ball over 0.8 times per game.
It is clear that the 21-year-old has taken on much more responsibility with Embiid out of the lineup, but this must continue with the roster healthy again. If Maxey and Embiid can build some chemistry and the Kentucky guard is able to continue his impressive play, the conversation could change greatly for how seriously the Sixers are looked at moving forward.