James Harden joins his third team in the last two seasons, all by his design, tonight with the Philadelphia 76ers pulling into Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves are fresh off a win against the Grizzlies, in which the Wolves hardly could have played much worse. Can Harden mesh right away with Joel Embiid even if Minnesota might be figuring out how to be a good basketball team even when it is struggling?
Here are our free NBA picks and predictions for the 76ers at the Timberwolves on February 25, with tip set for 8:00 p.m. ET.
76ers vs Timberwolves odds
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The Timberwolves were briefly 1.0-point favorites but once it was official James Harden would play, that jumped the fence to 76ers -2.0 and then -2.5. The total opened at 229.5 at some books and has been between 229 and 229.5 throughout Friday.
76ers vs Timberwolves predictions
Predictions made on 2/25/2022 at 3:00 p.m. ET.
Click on each prediction to jump to the full analysis.
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76ers vs Timberwolves game info
• Location: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
• Date: Friday, February 25, 2022
• Tip-off: 8:00 p.m. ET
• TV: Bally Sports North, NBCS-Philadelphia
76ers vs Timberwolves betting preview
76ers: No injuries to report.
Timberwolves: No injuries to report.
Find our latest NBA injury reports.
Betting trend to know
The Timberwolves have gone Over the total in 18 of 25 games since New Year’s and in 10 of their last 13. Find more NBA betting trends for 76ers vs. Timberwolves.
76ers vs Timberwolves picks and predictions
Our predictions are compiled from the analysis of the spread and total and are indications of where we are leaning for this game.
Our best bet is the play that we like the most for this game, which we would actually put some of our bankroll behind.
Let’s start by discounting the disadvantage of playing on the second night of a back-to-back, only because it comes immediately after a week off. Maybe the Timberwolves’ legs are a bit weary by the game’s end tonight, but let’s doubt it.
Furthermore, neither Harden nor Embiid plays the kind of game that would exploit that. They are both plodding, half-court, ball-dominant scorers. A transition offense would be more worrisome for Minnesota tonight.
Now then, Harden and Embiid. In handicapping, it can be frustratingly difficult to distinguish between narrative and reality, particularly when the narrative is grounded in reality. Harden and Embiid likely will get along in due time. They each have too much staked in this marriage to not. While Embiid may still be in the early days of his prime, this figurative marriage can be considered analogous to two divorcees marrying at 40 despite all their friends warning the other is toxic. Eventually, they need to make it work if for no other reason than to prove everyone else wrong.
But that first year could be rocky, due to that toxicity and all. For Harden and Embiid, this next month is equivalent to that first year.
They will need to learn each other’s on-court tendencies, preferred spots on the court, and general rhythms. This pairing should work, but it will take time. That questionable couple does not overcome their shared flaws overnight.
Maybe too much time is being spent on this analogy, but it is only out of an intention to show how tonight could go badly for Harden and Embiid, yet their long-term partnership could yield magnificent results. Neither can jump ship this time, not again in the case of Harden, so they will find a way to make this work.
That way will not be tonight. The Timberwolves will relish Philadelphia’s missed defensive communications. D’Angelo Russell will grin at the sight of Harden languishing on a possession or two. Any Embiid frustration will delight longtime nemesis Karl-Anthony Towns more than outsiders may expect.
Prediction: Timberwolves +2.5 (-110)
Harden and Embiid do already have one quality in common: They get to the free-throw line. And against the Timberwolves, they will do so more than ever. Minnesota has long griped about officiating, particularly Towns, and that has continued this season. Just last night, the Target Center crowd serenaded the officials with a few rounds of your typical coordinated jeering, even though the calls were — and this is coming from a Timberwolves fan who was in Target Center last night — completely justifiable.
That undue frustration leads to more fouls, both deserved and undeserved. For example, the Grizzlies attempted 40 free throws last night, compared to their season average of 23.3. This season, Timberwolves’ opponents have taken 25.3 free throws per game, the most in the league by 1.25 per game.
The 76ers have attempted 22.1 free throws per game this season, but now they add Harden, who averages 8.0 on his own this season and 10.0 per game in the last three seasons. Neither Seth Curry (1.5) nor Andre Drummond (1.8) took many free throws this season, and of course, Ben Simmons took none, not that he would have made them. (Sorry Ben, that was uncalled for but too easy to avoid.)
Both Embiid (11.3 attempts per game this season) and Harden could take 10+ free throws tonight, and they both shoot 80+ percent from the line.
That march to the stripe should be enough all on its own to catapult this game to yet another Timberwolves’ Over, fitting entirely in line with their defensive woes of the last two months.
Prediction: Over 229.0 (-110)
Having acknowledged a pertinent fandom above, let’s be clear: This pick is not because of that. If anything, a Timberwolves fan should be more likely to pick against Minnesota tonight. The idea of the Timberwolves mattering as late as March is a foreign one, a dubious one, an uncertain one.
But believing in Harden and Embiid in game one is even more questionable. 76ers head coach Doc Rivers has said he intends to play at least two of Harden, Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Tyrese Maxey at all times to ensure Philadelphia has consistent offense That sounds a lot like Harden will have to learn to mesh with multiple players in short order.
In time, he will. Tonight, that seems doubtful.
Typically, when this Wolves fan handicaps his team, he points toward the Over on Towns 3-pointers made, but the odds have finally caught up with that prop after Towns won the shooting contest on All-Star Weekend. So instead, tonight let’s just fade the honeymoon period between Harden and Embiid.
Pick: Timberwolves moneyline (+120)
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