A plane nearly full of Sixers fans traveled to Minnesota yesterday, as the Rights to Ricky Sanchez Podcast-spearheaded Fly the Process contingent is set to cheer on beloved former Sixers/current Timberwolves Dario Saric and Robert Covington at tonight’s game.
Unfortunately, they’ll have to cheer on Robert Covington in street clothes, as last season’s NBA All-Defensive First Team forward is out for the season with a bone bruise in his right knee. In more recent news, Sixers star center Joel Embiid will be joining RoCo on the sidelines, as it was announced yesterday that the big man would sit out the contest for load management reasons.
With just seven regular season games remaining and a comfortable 3.5-game lead over both Boston and Indiana for the third seed in the East, it makes perfect sense for Philadelphia to prioritize having Embiid arrive to the postseason fully healthy. After Thursday’s win over Brooklyn, Joel mentioned how excited he was to get the postseason started in top form:
“I’m excited. Honestly, I don’t care who we play. I’m excited. It’s going to be my second postseason. Last year I had the mask and wasn’t feeling well, I was out of shape, but this playoff I’m coming in better shape and I don’t have the mask to hate, so it’s definitely going to be a different story.”
With Embiid out, though, the Sixers will find it even more difficult to contend with Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who is tearing through NBA defenders like they’re his Fortnite competition. Post-All-Star Break, KAT is averaging 29.8 points with 53.7/45.5/80.6 splits, 14.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.1 blocks.
The Sixers are already limited in terms of their defensive big men options behind Embiid — Boban struggles to defend in space, Jonah Bolden fouls far too much, and Amir Johnson is more veteran presence than helpful rotation player at this point in his career. I’m not optimistic they’ll be able to slow down a seven-footer who can score from all areas of the court and is knocking down 3s at a Splash Brothers-approved rate.
If Philadelphia is to remain competitive without Embiid, they’ll need their other stars to shoulder more of the load. All eyes nationally will be on Jimmy Butler, who is making his first return to Minnesota after his acrimonious departure from the Wolves earlier this season. In his typically candid fashion, Butler admitted that fans will boo him (Was there any question?), saying, “I would boo me, too. I’m not going to lie to you.”
Butler famously dominated a Wolves scrimmage flanked by a bunch of third-stringers; Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and JJ Redick would seem to be a stronger group with whom to take down his former teammates. When the Sixers demolished the Wolves, 149-107, back in January, Butler did not come out guns blazing as many expected, actually going a long time before taking his first shot and finishing with 19 points on a tidy 8-of-10 shooting.
For a game against a lottery-bound opponent, there is certainly no shortage of interesting storylines tonight. So get your dual-screen setup prepped to watch this game and keep tabs on the NCAA tournament, and root for Dario to have a big game in a losing effort.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
When: 8:00 pm EST
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia; NBA TV
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic