Philadephia at Minnesota
Time: 8:30 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: MIN -5.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Philadelphia 76ers are generating plenty of excitement, but are still just 13-13 thus far and currently sit on the outside, looking-in, with regards to the early season playoff picture. Though tied with New York and Miami at .500, the Sixers can move ahead tonight possibly with a victory over hosting Minnesota. The Timberwolves are 5.5-point favorites in the affair, with an over/under set at 214.5 points. The game will air at 8:30 PM (CT) on ESPN.
Philadelphia is beginning to lose steam early, as it has lost its past four games to Phoenix, L.A. Lakers, Cleveland and New Orleans. Joel Embiid is having an All-Star season, and Ben Simmons is the likely rookie of the year, but the Sixers are still without 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz. His return looms as something that will make the team better still, but for the interim seeing Simmons run the point guard position has been nothing short of special. The 6-foot-11 point-forward is averaging 18 points, 9.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists while posting a PER of 19.4. Embiid has been even more impressive in his second (healthy) season with averages of 23.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.95 blocks per game. Between the pairing, Philly has more than enough to be competitive, but the duo receives plenty of help.
Veteran shooting guard J.J. Redick has adapted seamlessly to Philly’s schemes and picked up right where he left off as a Los Angeles Clipper. The former Duke sensation is averaging 16.6 points and 3.5 assists per game, while Robert Covington has emerged as one of the best “Three and D” swingmen in the league. Along with them, the Sixers acquired power forward Trevor Booker to add some depth, at the low cost of a benched Jahlil Okafor. Dario Saric also factors in as an excellent midrange shooter, and he is averaging 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in 28 minutes a night.
The Sixers have youth at all positions, and are utilizing 11 players on a regular basis. It is tough to say just how much better this team will be when Fultz returns. Though he is a rookie, he will join two strong performers and give the Sixers something of one of the league’s youngest “Big Threes.” It is not hard to envision the Sixers as playoff spoilers when the time comes, but for the duration of Fultz’s absence, the focus will be on just how good Simmons and Embiid are together.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is building towards a meaningful future with two of the league’s brightest stars in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, alongside established veteran All-Star Jimmy Butler. Tom Thibodeau finally has the veteran leaders to lead his strong young core. Towns is averaging 19.8 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks pregame with a team-high PER Of 21.8. Butler has reduced his scoring load from a season ago with the pitiful Chicago Bulls, but is playing strong two-way basketball and still tallying 18 points per night. Wiggins has made meaningful strides as a playmaker and defender, with the cost that he is averaging less points than last season, but the Wolves are a better more well-rounded team this season.
Credit some of that to unheralded additions Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson. Gibson has relegated the once-promising Gorgui Dieng to the bench, while Teague has seamlessly replaced Ricky Rubio at the point guard position. Jamal Crawford is not seeing a lot of minutes (17 per game), but is still a viable scorer off the bench and he can get hot at any time. The Wolves have sufficient depth and leadership to finally cash in on its potential, and developing consistency on both ends of the court is next on Thibodeau’s checklist for his rising Wolves.