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Sixers down Batum for ‘great challenge' vs. West-leading T-Wolves

The 18-8 Sixers will play the 20-5 Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

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Starting Sixers forward Nicolas Batum will be sidelined for the team’s matchup Wednesday night against the Western Conference-leading Timberwolves. 

Batum missed the end of the Sixers’ loss Monday to the Bulls with a right hamstring issue. The injury didn’t dissipate overnight. 

“He will be out for I think a couple days, is what (the medical staff) said. Again, nothing major. It is a little sore,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said Tuesday. “I think they’re looking at some imaging and stuff to see but at this point, it’s nothing major. But it is a little tight and sore.”

Kelly Oubre Jr., who's come off the bench seven straight times since returning from a fractured rib, would be an obvious candidate to start in Batum's place.

After a three-game absence in mid-November for personal reasons, Batum had started the Sixers’ past 13 contests. When he’s suited up for the Sixers, the team is 13-4. Batum has shot 24 for 49 from three-point range and regularly made savvy, slick plays to enhance superstar big man Joel Embiid’s talents.

The numbers are boosted by a recent string of blowout wins over low-level opponents, but the Sixers’ lineup of Tyrese Maxey, De’Anthony Melton, Tobias Harris, Batum and Embiid has a fantastic 137.3 offensive rating and plus-33.3 net rating across 467 non-garbage time possessions. According to Cleaning the Glass, both marks are NBA-leading among lineups with at least 200 possessions. 

The Sixers also listed Marcus Morris Sr. and Robert Covington as questionable vs. Minnesota. Both players did not participate in Tuesday’s practice because of an illness. In light of those circumstances, the Sixers recalled 21-year-old guard Jaden Springer from the Blue Coats. He’d been assigned to Delaware on Sunday ahead of the G League Winter Showcase. 

The T-Wolves sure look like a difficult opponent for the Sixers (or any team) to earn a bounce-back win over. Since starting the season 1-2, Minnesota has gone 19-3. 

At 18-8, the Sixers are third in the Eastern Conference standings. 

“We’ve been kicking ass for the last month,” Patrick Beverley said. “Obviously it’s always tough and hard when you lose, but I’m the type of person that’s always going to look at the good. … We’re one of the top teams in the NBA for a reason. You’ve got to give Chicago a lot of credit. They came in and played hard. They fought, made it tough, played physical. We just came up short. 

“We’ve got another test tomorrow — No. 1 team in the NBA. We win that game, I don’t think there’s a lot of talk about the Chicago Bulls then.”

Entering Tuesday night, the Timberwolves had the NBA’s best overall defensive rating, as well as the league’s top defensive rating in fourth quarters.

With the Sixers on the second night of a back-to-back on Nov. 22 and Embiid (left hip soreness) out, they scored a season-low 99 points in Minnesota. Anthony Edwards posted 31 and Karl-Anthony Towns tallied 23. 

“They present some problems,” Nurse said. “They’re a very good defensive team, a very good rim-protection team. We need to play a certain way against them. Can we do it? … I watch their games, and there’s a lot of games where they’re down eight or 10 or whatever. 

“And all of a sudden, they win by eight or 10 because their defense is just really stingy late in the game and they’ve got a combination of tremendous size with the three bigs they play (Towns, Rudy Gobert, backup center Naz Reid). But they’ve also got tremendous athleticism and length on the wings and on the perimeter. So it’ll be a great challenge for us for sure.”

In Monday's fourth quarter, Nurse very briefly used a Paul Reed-Embiid frontcourt.

Reed said Tuesday the Sixers have not practiced much with that look, but perhaps it’ll be worth trying again vs. the Timberwolves.

“I’m pretty sure, with dudes being out, I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to be out there again with him, if need be,” Reed said. “We’ve got dudes out that (play) the four position, so I’ve got to make sure I’m prepared.”

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