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Sixers duel with Minnesota in second leg of back-to-back

A trio of All-Star big men take center stage Saturday night.

Philadelphia 76ers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Update, 1:51 p.m.: Tyrese Maxey is officially listed as OUT; Tobias Harris is listed as questionable.

Following four days off, the 8-7 Philadelphia 76ers wrap up their four-game homestand with another Midwestern foe sporting a jumbo-sized duo inside, this time in the form of the 7-8 Minnesota Timberwolves. Whereas the Sixers had a significant rest advantage Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota is the one holding that edge this time. The Timberwolves last played Wednesday, notching a 126-108 road win over the Orlando Magic.

After acquiring Rudy Gobert this summer to pair with their core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell, the Timberwolves have stumbled through the opening month. They began 4-2 before losing six of their next seven and have righted the ship with a pair of road victories. According to Cleaning The Glass, they’re 15th in net rating (plus-1.1) and 13th in offensive rating and 15th in defensive rating. Through 15 games, they’ve been quite mediocre. The Sixers are 11th in net rating (plus-2.0), though have hit their stride defensively (third) and struggled offensively since James Harden exited the lineup (18th overall).

Nobody is listed on Minnesota’s injury report aside from G League assignees. The Sixers haven’t submitted theirs, but I assume Harden (right foot tendon strain), Furkan Korkmaz (left knee effusion) and Jaden Springer (right quad strain) will be out. Tobias Harris missed Friday’s game with left hip soreness. Tyrese Maxey exited late first half Friday after rolling his left ankle and is scheduled to undergo an MRI Saturday. The former’s status is unclear. The latter’s feels dubious, at best.

The double-big lineup of Gobert and Towns is a distinct matchup for which to game plan. I’d imagine the Sixers elect to put Joel Embiid on Gobert and P.J. Tucker on Karl-Anthony Towns. Gobert is Minnesota’s primary roller, whereas Towns typically operates on the perimeter or in the mid-post. Embiid’s pick-and-roll defense as of late has been quite good, so he could pose issues for Russell and Gobert’s two-man game. I expect Maxey, if he plays, to wrangle with the former Ohio State Buckeye, while Matisse Thybulle/De’Anthony Melton takes Anthony Edwards and Tobias Harris is on the gangly, third-year forward, Jaden McDaniels.

Gobert’s a premier screen-setter. Maxey will have his hands full to prevent Russell from waltzing into his preferred midrange pull-ups. Embiid might have to often work the 1-on-2 balance pristinely.

I’d imagine some of these assignments are fluid aside from Embiid on Gobert. If the Russell-Gobert pick-and-roll, which has established some improved chemistry as of late, is cooking the Sixers’ defense, Melton and Maxey could swap roles. Maybe, Tucker’s superior help instincts make more sense to play a roamer role off of McDaniels and Harris applies his strength to Towns as the primary defender.

Offensively, I’m curious to see how Embiid looks to best Gobert. His pull-up and driving game have been his primary means of success recently, but Gobert has the length and mobility to disrupt those aspects. Philadelphia’s run a ton of angle pick-and-rolls to feed Embiid the ball in the middle of the floor lately. Gobert is a superb ball-screen defender. It might be a low-post, brunt-force game for Embiid, who is significantly stronger than his French counterpart. A couple early Gobert fouls would do wonders for Embiid and the Sixers.

Presumably, Maxey will see McDaniels, whose mobility, length and slippery screen navigation could slow the third-year speedster. Russell seems like nearly a lock to defend Tucker, whose minimal offensive role, especially without Harden around to feed him skip passes or short-roll opportunities, will allow Russell to communicate off the ball and avoid on-ball reps, where he is compromised. That leaves Edwards and Towns for Melton and Harris. Edwards’ inattentiveness off the ball alongside Melton’s heady relocation skills could yield some fruitful looks from deep.

Neither of these teams are good rebounding clubs on either end, so it’ll be interesting to see how that battle unfolds. Minnesota is 29th in defensive rebounding rate, while Philadelphia is 30th in offensive rebounding rate. Minnesota is 19th in offensive rebounding rate, while Philadelphia is 17th in defensive rebounding rate.

The Sixers love to play slowly (27th in pace). The Timberwolves love to play quickly (fifth in pace). The Sixers are ninth in limiting opposing rim frequency (32.7 percent). The Timberwolves are fourth in offensive rim frequency (38.1 percent). Embiid carries a substantial two-way burden Saturday night. That’s always the case, but even more so, given Minnesota’s personnel and play-style. With or without Maxey and Harris, he’ll look to push Philadelphia’s winning streak to four games.

Game Details

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

When: 7:30 pm ET

Where: The Center, Philadelphia, PA

Watch: NBATV, NBC Sports Philadelphia

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @LibertyBallers

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