Karl-Anthony Towns was expecting the question and was ready.
The Wolves are about to play in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The 76ers in general and center Joel Embiid in particular have given the Wolves problems for the past few years.
And that might explain Towns’ response when asked about the matchup with Embiid:
“It’s a game about trying to find a [way] to win,” Towns said. “I know everyone wants to hype it up; that’s what sells papers. But I ain’t in the business of making y’all money. I’m in the business of getting Ws, that’s what I am.”
OK, fair enough. But the matchup between star centers figures to dictate which 3-0 team remains undefeated.
The Wolves have started the season in impressive fashion, tied for the second-best start in franchise history. Towns appears to have taken an impressive step in his development. He is third in the league in scoring (32.0) and rebounding (13.3) and was named Monday the Western Conference player of the week. Towns is also tied for first in the league in steals (2.7) and tied for third in deflections (4.7), suggesting growth at the defensive end.
For the Wolves, who have shown grit while winning all three games after overcoming deficits of eight points or more, this is another litmus test against a 76ers team with championship aspirations.
It’s an early-season test for Towns, too.
The 76ers have won five consecutive games against the Wolves. That streak includes last year’s 149-107 blowout in Philadelphia — Minnesota’s first game against Jimmy Butler after his trade to the 76ers — which is the second-worst lost in franchise history.
For Towns in particular, the matchup with Embiid — which began during the 2016-17 season — has not usually gone well.
Towns outscored Embiid 25-10 in their first meeting in the fall of 2016 in Minnesota’s 110-86 victory, the Wolves’ last vs. the Sixers. That was back when Embiid, whose NBA debut had been delayed two years by injuries, wasn’t playing in back-to-back games.
Embiid sat out a home win against Washington in order to play the next night in Minnesota, where he scored just 10 points in 22½ minutes.
Since then Embiid has outscored Towns 103-70, including a 31-13 edge during last year’s blowout in Philadelphia.
After an overtime victory over the Wolves in December of 2017, during which he had scored 28 points with 12 rebounds and eight assists, Embiid put a picture on Instagram and Twitter of him scoring on Towns with the caption: “Euro stepping our way through Minnesota and we ended up raising the cat last night.”
“That caption was as trash as your picture quality,” Towns replied.
To which Embiid responded: “Better quality than your defense.’’
So the expectation is the intensity will be there. In the past, perhaps, Towns would try to do too much when he and Embiid went at each other. And some games have gone sideways because of Towns getting into foul trouble.
But there is reason to believe Towns might bring a different attitude into the game this time.
“Maybe in the past we’d have a conversation with him,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said when asked if Towns had tried to do too much in the past. “But I feel so good about where he’s at as a player, as a person, as a leader. I just feel very comfortable with it, so it’s not something I’ll address.”
The Wolves are a different bunch than the one that lost big to the Sixers last year. The style is different, the pace is quicker. There is a new determination to stress fewer midrange jumpers and more three-point shots.
And while the shooting hasn’t always been there, the Wolves’ strengths in rebounding, their edge in free-throw attempts and a lack of turnovers have made up for it.
“These guys have been through some tough times over a number of years,” Saunders said. “And they’ve come together. And look at who was brought in here. You have toughness, whether it be Noah [Vonleh], Bazz [Shabazz Napier], Jake [Layman], TG [Treveon Graham], Jordan Bell, you have a number of guys who are tough.
‘‘KAT said it before. I’ll say it again. When guys enjoy being around each other, you can’t help but want to fight for the guy next to you.”
And that’s how Towns sees it. Not as a matchup with Embiid, but as a game between two teams trying to stay undefeated.
“I’m going out there trying to find a way to get a team win,” he said. “And we’ve got to play together if you want to beat a good team in Philly.”