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Sixers-Wolves: Game preview, schedule, start time

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, the Sixers will be the center of the basketball world as ESPN descends on Philadelphia for not only game coverage, but a full day of check-ins. They’ll have a chance to prove something on national television against the under-performing Thunder, but first comes what may be a bigger challenge: Los Lobos.

The 16-11 Timberwolves are 9-4 at home, while the 13-13 Sixers are riding a 4-game losing streak, trying to shake off injuries. Minny is handling their first year with a legitimate big-3 well, with Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony Towns, and Jimmy Butler putting up a combined 57.3/21.1/8.4 nightly. That’s 53.5%/49.9%/37% of their nightly totals coming from their big guns, as they should be.

The Wolves are good and would have a legitimate shot at three All-Stars if Seattle was granted an immediate expansion franchise and they bumped the Wolves into the east. But they do have on Achilles heel: Late game defense.

In a piece for the big site yesterday, Tom Ziller pointed out that the Timberwolves are the league’s worst late-game defensive team. He says it better than I can so I’ll let him take over:

As noted, the Timberwolves are No. 25 in the league in defense. Overall, they allow 107.9 points per 100 possessions. But the team isn’t consistently awful on defense through the typical the fourth quarter, Minnesota allows 115 points per 100 possessions, dead worst in the NBA...

No unit in the entire NBA plays nearly as many minutes as the Minnesota starting five. That lineup averages 25.5 minutes per game — more than half of a regulation game — every night. No other lineup in the NBA averages so many as 19 minutes per game.

If the minutes load is to blame for the Timberwolves’ fourth-quarter defense woes, we’d expect two things to be true: That unit would play much of the fourth quarter, and that unit’s fourth-quarter defense would be substantially worse than its performance elsewhere in the game.

The Wolves are allowing other teams to have a 107.9 4th quarter ORtg, and the Sixers already own a 4th quarter ORtg of 106.8, without the help of Minny’s olé defense. I think the Sixers have a better chance of snapping the 4-game skid when it turns to 5 and they have to show up on national TV on Friday, but if it happens tonight, I’d put money that it happens in the 4th. That is, unless Tom Thibodeau also reads Tom Ziller.

9:30 PM / Target Center, Minneapolis, MN / NBC Sports Philadelphia +

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