In their first game following the NBA all-star break, the Sixers travel to Minnesota to take on the European All-Stars Wednesday night at 8pm. Hopefully, Jrue gleaned some tips from LeBron on his Cleveland days and how best to lead a team with a limited supporting cast with Thad Young likely still out and Andrew Bynum’s status still up in the air. A full-strength Minnesota squad is a match-up nightmare for Philadelphia with aggressive big men who clean the glass on both ends. In the teams’ first meeting this season, the Timberwolves out-rebounded the Sixers 47-40 while also shooting 13-25 from downtown in a 105-88 blow-out that wasn’t even as close as that score indicates. However, no one would confuse a 19-31 Minnesota squad with a formidable opponent and this is the type of game the Sixers must absolutely win if they’re going to climb back into the playoff picture.
Fortunately for Philadelphia, the Timberwolves are not fully healthy as Kevin Love remains out with a broken hand and Andrei Kirilenko has missed the last 5 games with a quadriceps injury, although the team has maintained he would return following the all-star break. Also, the 3-point shooting from the previous match-up was a huge outlier as Minnesota ranks dead last in the league this season at 30.1% from behind the arc. Mickael Gelabale, who has been starting in place of the injured Kirilenko, is the only player on the team with an above-average 3PT% at 42.3%.
One thing going against the Sixers in this match-up is that Ricky Rubio finally appears to be rounding into form following his return from an ACL injury, averaging 15.0 ppg, 10.0 apg, and 2.3 spg in his past 6 games. Rubio is an absolute joy to watch play the game and as instinctive a passer as you’ll find in the league. However, his shot is still very much a work in progress, with his 34.3% FG% right about at the 35.7% mark he set in his rookie season. Also, while Rubio is a better defender than given credit for, he is still more of a gambler than a strong man-to-man defender. Holiday should be able to get into the lane against him when the Sixers have the ball.
Keys to the game:
- Holiday needs to win his match-up with Rubio. Keep Ricky out of the lane in pick-and-roll situations and force him to take long jumpers. Conversely, Jrue shouldn’t settle for deep twos and needs to get into lane and draw some fouls on Rubio in the process. Although guards like Ridnour and Barea are solid rotation guys, they don’t impact the game in the way Rubio does.
- The Sixers big men have to man up and keep strong rebounders like Pekovic and Kirilenko off the offensive glass. As mentioned, the Timberwolves have struggled to shoot the rock this season so limiting their chances will go a long way to a Sixers victory.
Prediction: The absence of Kevin Love, who exploits the Sixers’ interior rebounding weakness as well as anyone in the league, proves huge and the Sixers win to start the second half of the season off right.