The Sixers are looking to avenge their embarrassing nationally-televised 24-point loss to the Timberwolves. The Timberwolves, on the other hand, are treating Tuesday's matchup as another game (see game notes).
"We try to be consistent with our approach," head coach Tom Thibodeau said at his team's shootaround Tuesday morning. "In this league, there's something every night. You don't want to get wrapped up in the wrong things. The things you want to get wrapped up in are what goes into winning."
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The Timberwolves beat the Sixers easily in mid-November, and that game lingered with the team. Joel Embiid took the loss personally after reading negative comments on social media. He sees the rematch as "payback time."
By now the league knows what Embiid is capable of (especially when motivated by a bad loss). Still, the Timberwolves aren't going to lose sight of the game plan to hone in on an individual player.
"I have to be prepared mentally and physically to go against him. He's a good basketball player, very skilled," Gorgui Dieng said, adding, "We play team basketball here. We want to play as a team, so I'm not going to focus on one guy."
The Timberwolves plan to counter Embiid with both Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns at points throughout the game. Dieng handled the majority of the defensive task in the first meeting, while Towns is prepared to guard him as well.
"I think he's a great player. I think he's definitely put his foot in water early here in the NBA. He's doing a great job," Towns said. "Just like anyone else, you've got to make sure his shots are hard. … and make it very difficult for him to see the rim."
Thibodeau has been impressed by Embiid's performance this early in his rookie season given the fact he missed his first two years with injuries. Thibodeau noted his familiarity with with long-term injuries after coaching Derrick Rose on the Bulls.
"That's very difficult in this league to go through one year of not playing," Thibodeau said. "So to go through a second year like that, particularly when you haven't been in the league, I think that's a tough challenge mentally and he seems to have handled that extremely well. His skillset is very, very impressive. To be able to shoot the ball the way he can, put it in the floor, post up, he's a great talent. I think Philly's very fortunate to have a player like that."
The Sixers will have a different look when they face the Timberwolves this time. They are in an experimentation phase with their bigs, and Tuesday they could pair Embiid and Nerlens Noel, the latter of whom was sidelined back in November.
Thibodeau is ready for the changes Noel can bring to the Sixers' lineup. He has been watching the big man's game since he was on the Celtics coaching staff in Boston, where Noel was raised.
"I think what he brings is he's got great feet, he's got a shot-blocking component, he's got great hands, he rolls to the basket," Thibodeau said. "It's a big plus for them."
The Sixers will still be short a big on Tuesday. Richaun Holmes will miss his fifth game following the NBA's concussion protocol. Sergio Rodriguez (left ankle sprain) is also out.