Here comes reality.
After five victories against lottery teams, the 76ers finally get a true test Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Wells Fargo Center.
Right now, the Sixers (41-30), who are one win or one Detroit loss from clinching a playoff spot, look like world beaters coming off consecutive blowout victories over the tanking Orlando Magic on Thursday and the Memphis Grizzlies the night before. Before that, they racked up wins over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday and last week against the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks.
“I think we are playing good basketball right now against teams that aren’t the true sort of judgment,” coach Brett Brown said. “We are going to find out really how good we are playing against Minnesota. Let’s call it for what it is.”
The Eastern Conference’s fourth-place Sixers played with good spirit and did all of the right things, especially against the Magic (21-51) and Grizzlies (19-53), during their winning streak.
Brown is excited to display the good spirit against a playoff-caliber team. The Timberwolves are 42-31 after beating the Knicks on Friday night in Madison Square Garden. Minnesota is seventh in the Western Conference with nine games remaining. The top eight teams in each conference advance to the playoffs.
Fighting for a postseason berth, the Timberwolves should play with more energy than the Sixers’ last five opponents, who, in some instances, have packed it in for the season. So this game will show if the Sixers have actually improved or if their winning streak is just a result of facing bad teams.
“It’s a reality check,” Brown said of facing the Timberwolves. “Like where are we at? … So I look forward to playing sort of a reality-type game with Minnesota.”
Remember that the Sixers didn’t exactly look invincible the last time they faced playoff-caliber teams. They’ve actually lost three straight and five of their six games to teams with winning records.
In an 1-on-1 interview, @JJRedick said the #Sixers need to play well in and win Saturday’s game vs the #Minnesota #Timberwolves and their other remaining games vs winning teams. @BenSimmons25 crashed the interview, saying Redick’s head looked big in the iPhone video recording. pic.twitter.com/IkqNMqbKDY
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) March 23, 2018
The Sixers said they would learn from each one of the losses to Indiana (March 13), Miami (March 8 and Feb. 27), Milwaukee (March 4), and Washington (Feb. 25). The setbacks to the Heat, Bucks and Wizards were on the road.
“I think those were goods games that we played,” Ben Simmons said. “Maybe it was good that we lost to those teams on the road, because we know what to expect now. And we know what we need to get better at. I think it will help.”
Right now, four of the Sixers’ last 11 games are against winning teams. After playing Minnesota on Saturday, they’ll face the Denver Nuggets on Monday, the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 6 and finish up the regular season against the Bucks on April 11. Depending on the playoff situation, it’s hard say which players are going to be active when the Sixers take on Milwaukee in the finale. The Bucks (38-34) beat the Bulls in Chicago, 118-105, on Friday night and have the eighth-best record in the East.
“Those are games we need to play well in and we need to win,” JJ Redick said of facing teams with a winning record. “I think that, in a way, you can use those games as measuring sticks to where you are.”
He added that it’s hard to do that in games against the Magic, where four of Orlando’s top seven players were sidelined.
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) March 24, 2018