Preview: Wolves vs. 76ers
Two of the top young post players in the NBA will take center stage on Saturday night in Philadelphia when Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves travel to Wells Fargo Arena to play Joel Embiid and the 76ers in a game with important playoff implications.
Philadelphia, the hottest team in the Eastern Conference with five straight wins, including Thursday’s balanced 118-98 win over the Orlando Magic, has crept up to the fourth seed in the East playoff race, one game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third seed. Still, heading into Friday’s games, just five games separated the third-seeded Cavs from the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
“We respect the journey,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown told reporters in Orlando. “We don’t intend on letting what we built so far go easily. We are aware of where we’re at. We want to hold onto where we’re at. And we want to play good basketball.”
The 76ers have gotten this far on the strength of Embiid and triple-double machine Ben Simmons — who just missed out on yet another with six points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in the win over Orlando — as they chase their first playoff berth since 2012.
“This is foreign territory to a lot of our guys,” Brown said. “We can talk all about Dario (Saric) played at Efes, and Ben playing at LSU, Joel playing at Kansas — it’s not the NBA playoffs. The NBA 82-game regular season versus the NBA playoffs is a different sport.”
Minnesota, meanwhile, has weathered Jimmy Butler’s absence, improving to 7-6 over its last 13 games.
The Wolves snapped a two-game losing streak on Tuesday in a 123-109 win over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers, when Towns led all scorers with 30 points.
Towns also had 37 in a 116-111 win over Washington on March 13, two days after scoring 31 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, while adding 16 rebounds in a huge 109-103 win over the Golden State Warriors.
“Obviously it’s humbling, just that they respect the work I put into my craft,” Towns told reporters after the win over the Warriors. “I’m blessed with the opportunity to catch the ball with that kind of situation and be able to capitalize.”
With Towns in tow, the Wolves have relied on Andrew Wiggins to up his game, and he has responded in recent weeks. Wiggins slumped in an early February stretch in which he failed to top 20 points in nine straight games, bottoming out with games of seven and eight points on a combined 6 of 25 shooting against the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers. One game later, Butler was injured.
Since then, Wiggins has scored 20-plus in nine of 11 games, including 27 points in the 14-point win over the Clippers.
“I’m just trying to help the team any way I can,” Wiggins said. “When we need to score, I’ve got to score.”
Minnesota next returns home for two, starting with a matchup with Memphis on Monday at 8 p.m.
The 76ers remain home for two more games — Monday against Denver and Wednesday against New York, both at 7 p.m. — before heading south to Atlanta and Charlotte for a two-game set.