Joel Embiid after victory over Celtics
Photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

The Philadelphia 76ers (13-6) traveled to Minnesota to play guest to the Timberwolves (4-13) on Friday. The Sixers were looking to build another win streak after their best win of the season, which came on a Tobias Harris game-winning jumper to beat the Lakers in Philadelphia. Joel Embiid scored 37 points in 27 minutes, the Timberwolves had absolutely no answer, and the Sixers rolled to a 24-point victory in Minnesota.

Before we get to the action, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Timberwolves were down Karl-Anthony Towns and Juancho Hernangomez (h/s protocol), and Jarrett Culver (left ankle sprain) in this game. Ryan Saunders started D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Josh Okogie, Anthony Edwards, and Ed Davis.

The Sixers were without the services of Terrance Ferguson (personal), Mike Scott (right knee swelling), and Paul Reed and Rayjon Tucker (Two-Way assignment in G-League bubble). Vincent Poirier was available for the first time in more than three weeks after clearing the health and safety protocols for Covid-related contact tracing. Joel Embiid was available (to the surprise of many) after a hard fall on Wednesday. Doc Rivers started Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.

First Half

The Sixers started out painfully cold, missing their first seven field goal attempts of the game and nine of their first ten from the floor. It felt as though Embiid was settling a bit. Instead of getting looks right at the rim with a smaller Ed Davis guarding him, Embiid was settling for midrange jumpers and hook shots over his shoulders. That could be related to his back, which could still be sore after Wednesday. Normally, that would be a major problem with a deficit growing. However, the Timberwolves looked to be anything but urgent, and did not capitalize on the Sixers’ early struggles as they settled for midrange jumpers instead of getting to the rim, as well.

“This year, he should be an all-star. He deserves it.”

Tobias Harris continued his resurgence as a catch-and-shoot wing, knocking down a corner triple off of good perimeter relocation. Harris is connecting on 46.9 percent of his four three-point attempts from the catch twenty games into the season. Scaled to how far back the NBA.com data goes, that is far and away a career high in efficiency on the second most such attempts of his career. As with all people, I would imagine his confidence is sky high after Wednesday’s heroics. But, the efficiency was there before his big moment the other night.

As Rivers has said a handful of times, it’s likely more to do with the simplification of his role and game. Harris has quickened up his decision-making, and he hasn’t been dribbling nearly as much as he was last season. Less dribbling has led to less thinking, and less thinking has led to better efficiency and play. Of course, you give credit to Harris for coming out and performing, but both of his best seasons have come with significantly different teams coached by Doc Rivers. Rivers evidently has a way of whispering to Harris, and he may have said the right words to unleash the first all-star campaign of the forward’s career.

After the game, Embiid praised Harris’ play, saying, “He’s been great. He’s been consistent the whole season. I’ve been pushing a lot about him. This year, he should be an all-star. He deserves it.”

“You’re going to miss shots, miss open shots, and you got to keep playing.”

When the Sixers find themselves not up by six touchdowns at halftime against a bad team, it’s nearly a lock that the beat writers are talking about effort and maturity on both ends of the floor. However, tonight was a much different story. The Sixers put forth a professional effort on the defensive end of the court in the first half. They rotated well to abandoned shooters and closed out with control, forcing hesitations or additional swing passes. On screens, the communication was excellent. There were a handful of Timberwolves ball-screens that were unsuccessful in generating space because the Sixers were able to stay in front and knew what the game plan was on those plays. That communication forced the Timberwolves into chucking uncomfortable midrange jumpers that, for the most part, were not depositing points.

The reason the Sixers only led by five at halftime was that they connected on just fifteen of their 43 field goal attempts. The separator for Philadelphia was the free throw line. The Sixers connected on 21 of their 23 freebies, whereas the Timberwolves only got to the line fifteen times total.

After the game, Rivers talked about his team’s effort: “I thought we were playing right. I thought we obviously missed a lot of makable shots. I thought, overall, defense was good all game. So, your offense, and I’ve said it a million times, is not always going to be great. You’re going to miss shots, miss open shots, and you got to keep playing. Our guys did that individually and once the shots are start going in, we’re in great shape.”

Second Half

I don’t know that I’d say with any level of confidence that the Sixers made more of an effort to feed Embiid in the post. I can say with confidence that Embiid flipped the switch and decided to take over. He scored sixteen of his 37 points (through three quarters) in the third frame. The Sixers’ poor shooting began to normalize, and they found themselves up as many as seventeen points rather expeditiously.

After the game, Rivers offered some insight into how Embiid tweaked some things at halftime. “I told him at halftime, like, I thought he missed very makable shots, but I thought he was letting them off the hook. I thought, the second half, he not only got the ball in the same spot but then he got deep and once he gets that far, we are in great shape.”

From Hack-A-Dwight To Dwight Hacks Back

The struggles continue for Dwight Howard, who seemingly cannot help but commit four very clear fouls every game. He’s averaging 6.7 fouls committed per 36 minutes. At this point in his career, you’re not going to change who Dwight Howard is. He’s admitted to buying in as the ‘agitator’, and he’s historically been one to leave few fouls to spare. But, you can pencil in a handful of turnovers just on his offensive fouls and stone-handed lost balls out of bounds. If he’s going to keep his job on the court throughout the rest of the season, he must cut down on the fouls. Before the game, Doc Rivers told reporters that he knew his team had needs to fill on the roster, but would not divulge those needs for obvious reasons.

The Sixers (14-6) blew the Timberwolves to smithereens, winning 118-94. At the end of the day, that’s never a bad thing. As Doc Rivers has come to term, that’s “old school load management” for Joel Embiid. But, this is a game against what is far and away the worst team in the NBA. The Sixers took care of business on Friday. They simply did what they were supposed to do. They will have another test on Sunday, visiting the Indiana Pacers (11-8). Tip-off is set for 7 PM, EST. You can watch the game on NBC Sports Philadelphia.