Not long before Friday's game between the Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers at Target Center, there were two pieces of news:
Wolves center Naz Reid's sore right wrist could keep him out; Philadelphia center Joel Embiid's balky back wouldn't stop him from playing.
With Karl-Anthony Towns already out with COVID-19, the idea of covering Embiid with the game but undersized Ed Davis seemed bad.
"We knew what we were up against," Wolves coach Ryan Sunders said after Embiid had scored 37 points, made 10 of 19 shots, hit 16 of 18 free throws and pulled down 11 rebounds in just three quarters of Philadelphia's 118-94 victory. "With how physical they are even when you're at a full roster, going against an MVP candidate like Joel Embiid. It was tough to match their physicality."
The Wolves tried. For most of the first half they stayed with the 76ers, who started the game ice cold but ended it going away.
But there was no stopping Embiid. Or, for that matter, the rest of the 76ers, who are 14-6 and atop the Eastern Conference standings.
The best team in the East vs. the last-place team in the West? This would have been tough in any case.
Still, the game was tied after a quarter, and the Wolves led 41-36 with 4:36 left in the first half.
But Philly put the pedal down, ending the half 16-7, then coming out and hitting 10 of its first 11 shots in the third quarter. The 76ers, who got 17 points and 11 rebounds form Tobias Harris and had five players in double figures, led by five at the half, by 14 after three quarters and by as many as 26 in the fourth, which Embiid and most of the 76ers regulars watched from the bench.
"He poses a problem inside," said Saunders after Embiid scored 16 of the 76ers' 35 third-quarter points. "He's really good at drawing contact."
D'Angelo Russell, back after missing three games with a quad bruise, scored 14 points but made just three of 11 shots. Malik Beasley had 22, Anthony Edwards had 15 in his first start. Jarred Vanderbilt (11) and Jaylen Nowell (10) were in double figures off the bench.
But the Wolves turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 18 76ers points, and were outrebounded 51-38.
"When you've got a team that's in the bonus seven minutes into the quarter, they started the game that way," Russell said. "They started the third quarter that way. They finished the game that way. It's hard to win games like that."
It's hard with so many players out, too. The Wolves used their 10th starting lineup in 18 games Friday, a mix-and-match process that will continue until players return. The 76ers were able to take away the healthy scorers the Wolves did have, making points difficult for Russell, Beasley and Edwards, who were a combined 17-for-43.
"It's hard when you turn the ball over 18 times,'' Saunders said. "That's something that's not acceptable for our group. You can ask anyone in that locker room and they'd say the same things. It's hard to get into a rhythm when you're handing the ball to the other team.''
Or playing with a different rotation every night.
"It's tough," Vanderbilt said. "We're throwing out different lineups, everybody is trying to figure it out, adapt. But it's no excuse for our group. We still want to go out and play hard, and play efficient basketball no matter who is on the floor."
• The reporter did not attend the game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.