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Philadelphia 76ers (20-11) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (15-16)
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Last game: Minnesota: W, 111-98 vs Houston, Philadelphia: L, 82-75 vs Dallas
The Wolves went on the road Friday and defeated Houston for the third time in four tries this season, wrapping up the season series with the Rockets. Minnesota was spurred by their post play. Kevin Love continued to unleash unholy terror on the league, scoring 33 points and ripping down 17 rebounds, while Nikola Pekovic bumped and banged his way to a career-high 30 points. Ricky Rubio added nine assists.
Philadelphia fell to Dallas on Friday at home. The Sixers were limited to just 33.7% shooting from the field, while Dirk Nowitzki torched them for 24 second half points, 28 overall. Philadelphia rookie Nikola Vucevic led the Sixers with 16 points.
The Key Questions
#1. How good is Philadelphia?
Early on, the Sixers were questioned early and often. Despite their excellent record and point differential, Philly was beating up on weak teams. Since then, Philadelphia’s record has come down to Earth a little bit, but they have also defeated some quality opponents, including the Magic, Lakers, Hawks, and Bulls.
It’s certainly difficult to crack the elite section of the top-heavy Eastern Conference. To get to the Eastern Conference Finals, a team is going to have to knock off either Chicago or Miami, and good luck with that. But in the battle for third place in the East, it would seem Philadelphia has made a fairly convincing case.
#2. In a difficult game against a quality team, will Adelman open up his bench a little more?
Adelman only played eight different players against the Rockets. He may play one more if JJ Barea is back (he missed Friday for personal reasons and is questionable for tonight), but otherwise, don’t bet on seeing anybody else. Adelman seems to have found the rotation he trusts, and he doesn’t seem to like switching that rotation up. I’d criticize him, but he’s shown an annoying habit of proving me wrong every time I do. So. Nailing it, Rick.
#3. Can Wes Johnson continue to play…maybe not WELL, but better?
I find it funny (not really) that people boo Michael Beasley when he takes a three, but there seems to be an unspoken agreement not to boo Wes when he takes one. Y’all realize Beasley is shooting 40% from behind the arc while Wes is shooting just 22%, right? I realize Wes takes more threes than Beasley, but doesn’t that speak positively to Beasley’s shot selection?
Fortunately, Wes has shown he can do a few other things besides miss three pointers in a pretty way over the past few games. He defended and bothered Kevin Martin on Friday (and had a really nice chase-down block on Courtney Lee in the process). He had five rebounds against Houston, and has been working to get to the hoop more, as three of his four baskets were from within the three point arc. More importantly, he was 4-6, so he was taking shots within his arsenal. Continued improvement from Wes would be good.
The Key Matchups
How well can 320 year old Elton Brand defend Kevin Love? That will be one of the biggest keys to tonight’s game.
In the absence of Spencer Hawes, Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen have been splitting minutes for the Sixers. Neither player is overwhelmingly amazing, although Vucevic has had a couple of decent games. They will be matched up against Pek, who has been nothing short of a human chainsaw for the past two weeks. Enjoy!
Wes will be given the unenviable task of guarding Andre Iguodala. Iggy is averaging 12.4 points per game this season, and Wes will need to keep him out of the lane: Iguodala is only shooting 35% on jump shots this season.
The Sixers are more dangerous as a team than individually. Their team defense is frighteningly intense, and under head coach Doug Collins, they have learned to work very hard. Minnesota will need to match their intensity to have any chance of winning.
Philadelphia’s point differential scares me. From a talent standpoint, Minnesota might be better than Philadelphia, but from a talent standpoint, so are the Lakers, Magic and Hawks. Tough game to predict.
Game starts at 6 on Fox Sports North