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Sixers face off against Minnesota looking to end road trip 4-1

Can the Sixers punctuate their road trip on a high note?

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Philadelphia 76ers Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

After winning a run-and-gun shootout against the Indiana Pacers on Monday, the Philadelphia 76ers have a chance to conclude their road trip 4-1. They’ll be looking to snag their 19th victory of the year away from Wells Fargo Center when they meet the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.

Philadelphia enters this contest at 42-22, third in the East and having won three of its past four games. The Sixers are only a game back of the Boston Celtics in the loss column for the No. 2 seed, though Boston does hold the tiebreaker. Minnesota, meanwhile, is 34-32, has won three games in a row and climbed to sixth in the Western Conference, yet remains just 2.5 games up on the 12th-seeded New Orleans Pelicans.

Much like many of their counterparts out West, the Timberwolves have been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience this season. On Feb. 13, they outlasted the new-look Dallas Mavericks, 124-121, to score an impressive road victory. Then, they dropped three in a row, including losses to the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets. Now, they’re fresh off a 2-1 road trip, which featured wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings.

By and large, however, since the calendar flipped to 2023, Minnesota has been quite formidable. Over that span, it’s 18-11 with the league’s 10th-best net rating (plus-3.0), 18th-ranked offense and eighth-best defense. On the year, the Timberwolves are 14th in net rating (plus-0.6), 21st in offensive rating (114.0) and eighth in defensive rating (113.4). The Sixers are sixth in net rating (plus-3.7), sixth in offensive rating (117.6) and 11th in defensive rating (113.9).

Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf strain) remains out. He’s been sidelined Nov. 30. Jaylen Nowell (left knee tendinopathy) is also out. Austin Rivers (neck soreness) is probable. James Harden (left foot soreness), Tobias Harris (left calf contusion) and P.J. Tucker (back spasms are all questionable.

Harris and Tucker both exited Saturday’s win against the Milwaukee Bucks early and missed Monday’s victory over Indiana. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that both are expected back Tuesday. De’Anthony Melton and Jalen McDaniels started in their place Monday.

Although Minnesota’s struggled to establish consistently effective offense this season, it ranks fifth in pace and 13th in transition frequency. The Sixers are susceptible to getting beat on the break or in early offense, just as the Pacers did time and time again en route to 143 points Monday. Slowing Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels, both of whom seek quick-hitting buckets in different ways (creator vs. play-finisher), in the open floor will be crucial.

Otherwise, the offense centers around Mike Conley and Kyle Anderson setting up Rudy Gobert for opportunities inside, Naz Reid punishing bench units, and the floor-spacing/driving of Taurean Prince and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Reid is one of the best reserve bigs in the NBA and I’m curious to see how Paul Reed handles that matchup. Reid vs. Reed!

The Sixers’ wing-sized point-of-attack defense is a weak point, so wrangling with Edwards could be a problem. Joel Embiid bothering his midrange rhythm and space, while also closing off passing angles to Gobert, would be a major boon. Embiid’s attention to detail on that end has ebbed and flowed the past couple weeks, and an upswing would help fortify Philadelphia’s floundering defense.

Offensively, I expect McDaniels, a bona fide All-Defensive Team candidate, to assume the assignment on James Harden, who did not suit up when these teams played in mid-November. The McDaniels-Gobert pick-and-roll duo defensively will be a notable test for Philadelphia, though Embiid’s often had success against the Frenchman. Plus, generally, speaking, he and Harden have proven adept at countering all sorts of coverage together, regardless of the opponent. I look forward to watching that subplot unfold.

If Conley guards Tyrese Maxey, who’s averaging 25.8 points on 73.8 percent true shooting his past five games, that’s an advantage for the Sixers. Maxey touts a considerable edge as an explosive athlete and can overwhelm Conley attacking downhill off the catch. I wouldn’t be surprised if Minnesota is a little creative, though, and stashes Conley on Tucker (if he’s active) and gives Edwards the Maxey responsibility. If that occurs, Tucker will have to exploit Conley on the offensive glass and be involved in ball-screens to fashion beneficial switches for Harden and Maxey.

The Timberwolves are a challenging club to read this season, but they’re amid a hot streak and have looked pretty good since swapping D’Angelo Russell for Conley. Philadelphia is on the second leg of a road back-to-back and has been traveling for the past week. Both teams have playoff aspirations (or more). The game’s on TNT. It could be pretty compelling, so gear up, y’all.

Game Details

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

When: 7:30 pm EST, Tuesday, Mar. 7

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

Watch: TNT

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @LibertyBallers

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