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Sixers head to Minnesota following best win of 2020-21 so far

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers had their biggest test of the season on Wednesday, and they passed. They faced their toughest opponent by far in the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, and despite blowing their lead late in the fourth quarter as their offense struggled, the Sixers held on to win, 107-106.

The Sixers won’t be playing the NBA’s best defense every night, but that late-game offense against top teams will need work. It was ultimately a great win, though. Philly displayed some quality defense; Ben Simmons was more aggressive again and tallied 17 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists; and winning with Joel Embiid not quite at his best (28 points and 6 rebounds with 8-of-18 shooting) makes the victory even more impressive. Tobias Harris also had an excellent game at both ends of the floor, and finished off the champs with a game-winning jumper with two seconds left, giving him a new highlight for the impressive season he’s been having at both ends of the floor.

Now, the Sixers are heading back on the road to face the team from the bottom of the Western Conference: the 4-13 Minnesota Timberwolves.

It’s safe to say the Timberwolves are having a rough time this season. Their dull offense ranks dead last and they rank 27th in defensive rating, giving them a league-worst net rating of -9 (well below the 29th-ranked Sacramento Kings at -7.2). They’ve also only had Karl-Anthony Towns for four games — he suffered a wrist injury early in the season, and now remains out due to health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, D’Angelo Russell has missed the last three games and is questionable to play on Friday with a right quad contusion. Jarrett Culver is out with a left ankle sprain, and Juancho Hernangómez is out due to health and safety protocols.

For the Sixers, Mike Scott is still out with his right knee injury, Terrance Ferguson is out for personal reasons, and Vincent Poirier has been upgraded to probable as he goes through post health and safety protocols reconditioning. Joel Embiid is listed as questionable with back tightness. He took a hard fall onto his back against the Lakers, as he rose up to finish but was sent back by a push from LeBron James.

“I guarantee if it were me, I would have been ejected,” Embiid said after the game when talking about the play.

Watching how the Sixers perform offensively when Embiid is off the floor would have been something to focus on regardless in this game. Before their offense stalled down the stretch in the fourth quarter against the Lakers, they also went scoreless for several minutes when Embiid was off the floor at the end of the first quarter and start of the second. He may only be questionable vs. Minnesota at the moment, but there should be no rush to bring him back and this is definitely a good opportunity to get him some rest. The Sixers will immediately have a chance to try to smooth things out offensively when he’s off the court, and should have enough firepower to beat a terrible Timberwolves team without Towns and likely no D’Angelo Russell, either.

The 6’9” Naz Reid has been starting in place of Towns recently, and has been one of the few positives for the Timberwolves. Now that Minnesota is smaller without Towns and there’s a good chance Embiid sits, it will be interesting to see whether Doc Rivers goes back to using Ben Simmons at all at center, which he implemented a bit against the Lakers.

With the Sixers having more players at their disposal again, rookie Tyrese Maxey hasn’t received quite as many minutes lately. He only played just under 6 minutes against L.A., but he played almost 21 minutes in the Sixers’ last Embiid-less game against Detroit and scored 17 points. Maxey has been impressing all season, and should be set for more playing time if Embiid sits.

There aren’t many eye-catching matchups left in this depleted game, but Anthony Edwards is someone to look out for if you’re interested in following this year’s rookie class. He’s a highly athletic, talented scorer off the dribble, even though he’s been an inefficient one (13 points per game with a 45.2 True Shooting Percentage) as he starts his NBA career with plenty of shots. Malik Beasley is someone the Sixers will need to keep a close eye on. He’s the Timberwolves’ leading scorer in the absence of Towns and Russell at 19.9 points per game, shooting 38.1 percent from three on 7.4 attempts as an efficient off-movement shooter and improved scorer off the bounce.

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

When: 8:00pm ET

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @Liberty_Ballers

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