The Philadelphia 76ers may receive a significant boost from the return of Joel Embiid when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday.
Embiid has been sidelined for the past nine games after reportedly testing positive for COVID-19.
While Embiid was out, key players such as Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, Isaiah Joe, Danny Green and Seth Curry all missed games for various reasons.
But the Sixers gutted through a rigorous road trip with a 2-4 record.
“It’s just nice to have guys back,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said.
Harris was absent for the second straight game with a sore left hip in a 116-96 loss on Wednesday against the Golden State Warriors. Ben Simmons has yet to play this season for personal reasons.
“We kept ourselves above water and that’s all we can do,” Rivers said. “It’s not a fun trip because you don’t want to drop games and games you think you would win if you were at full strength. But it’s been a good trip in a lot of ways. Spiritually, for our team, I think this has been a phenomenal trip. We just keep getting closer.”
Despite the absences, 21-year-old Tyrese Maxey has continued to emerge as a budding star. Maxey is averaging 18.7 points, 4.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.
“His development has happened very quick, and he’s definitely turned into a killer,” Georges Niang said. “The kid just gets the ball and you turn and you think you’re running somewhere and the next thing you know, he’s taking off and doing that funky right-handed layup that seems to go in every time.”
The Timberwolves had won five in a row before being blown out 133-115 on the road against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday.
Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves with 25 points while D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley had 18 apiece.
Minnesota’s defense had been much improved during the winning streak. But it allowed the Hornets to tie a franchise record with 23 made 3-pointers. The Hornets were 23 of 40 from beyond the arc.
“We were just not matching up with anybody,” Towns said. “We were having two people guarding the ball and leaving guys on the wing to shoot. Kelly Oubre (seven 3-pointers) was feasting off of that.”
Despite the loss, the Timberwolves still seem to be trending in a positive direction. Even if Embiid remains out, winning on the road against the Sixers will be a daunting challenge.
“We have shown that we are here to play this season,” Towns said. “This is one of those days where you have to chalk it up and say, ‘We got humbled.’ But this is not how we play. We can’t expect that because we have a five-game winning streak, it is just going to translate to a six – or seven-game winning streak.
“The more wins we get, the more teams are going to want to beat us.”
Patrick Beverley sat out with a left adductor strain and he’s expected to remain sidelined against the Sixers.
–Field Level Media