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Robert Covington immediately impresses Tom Thibodeau, T-Wolves fans

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Robert Covington immediately impresses Tom Thibodeau, T-Wolves fans

It took Robert Covington all of one night to endear himself to his new franchise and fan base.

Covington started at small forward and played a team-high 41 minutes for the Timberwolves Wednesday night in a 107-100 win over the Pelicans. He had a typical RoCo stat line, stuffing the box score with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block.

T-Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau is known for playing his core guys huge minutes. It's regarded as one of the reasons Jimmy Butler has had trouble staying healthy for a full season — the dude averaged between 36 and 39 minutes for six straight seasons.

Covington got his first taste of that Wednesday night.

“I didn’t know," Thibodeau told reporters of the 41 minutes. "I knew we could use (Covington) right away because he brings so much defensively. And he goes so hard … if you go hard enough it’s going to make up for a lot of things, including being new to a team.’’

The 100 points scored on the T-Wolves were the fewest in 11 games and the second-lowest total all season. Some of that was because Andrew Wiggins actually used his athleticism and Karl-Anthony Towns actually played effective defense despite being plagued by foul trouble all game.

But a lot of it was the presence of Covington, who was all over the place, showing that his skill set can translate even before he knows the playbook. The Pels' leading scorer Wednesday was E'Twaun Moore, who was 3 for 10 for six points when guarded by Covington and 10 for 13 for 24 points when guarded by anyone else.

Dario Saric did not start. Thibodeau stuck with his favorite vet, Taj Gibson, who is still a solid four this deep into his career. Gibson played 28 minutes to Saric's 20. Expect that to move closer to an even split as Saric gets more acclimated. Saric is not as much a plug-and-play guy as Covington because his offense does require having the ball more. 

Saric finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds, an assists and 2 steals on 3-for-7 shooting.

Thibodeau was excited by the versatility of his two newest pieces, particularly because it can lead to more effective switching on defense.

"I thought Cov had a great game going," he said. "You get a feeling when you're coaching against players — I remember last year playing against (the Sixers) and those guys, I like their mental toughness. What they were a part of in Philadelphia, they went through some really dark days and they just kept going and going and going. 

"Even last year, they were 25-25 and they just clicked and took off. ... I love what Covington has done, to go undrafted and be first-team All Defense. That says a lot."

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Sixers at Magic: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Magic: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Updated: 1:36 p.m.

The 7-3 Sixers will play against their No. 1 pick in the NBA draft two years ago Wednesday night in Orlando.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game against the 3-7 Magic and Markelle Fultz: 

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Amway Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

A long and winding road

It’s been less than a year since Fultz last suited up for the Sixers. Since a scoreless effort on Nov. 19 in the Sixers’ win over the Suns, he experienced a series of agent-recommended medical consultations, a diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome, a trade minutes before the deadline in February and plenty of time watching on the bench as the Magic made a run to the playoffs. Of course, Fultz went through a lot prior to the last year, too, including a diagnosis in November 2017 of scapular muscle imbalance and the persistent inability, for whatever reason, to shoot the way he had at the University of Washington. 

Now, he’s started the last five games for the Magic. Fultz is averaging 9.7 points, 3.1 assists and 2.0 rebounds on the season. He’s already taken 22 three-point shots, seven more than he attempted in his 33 games with the Sixers, though he’s made just four of them.

Load management is in the spotlight 

Joel Embiid is out tonight in the second game of a back-to-back. He'll be listed as such with "injury maintenace/left knee soreness," but this is part of the plan to keep Embiid healthy, per a team source. As we saw with the Kawhi Leonard situation, league rules mandate that there be such a designation for a player sitting out.

Last night, it sounded like his preference was to play vs. Orlando.

“… At the beginning of the season, the goal was to limit my back-to-backs,” he said. “Obviously, the two-game suspension doesn't help. I feel like before that I was in a good rhythm and I kind of lost it. The last couple games I have not been good, especially when it comes to my efficiency and taking care of the ball. I feel like I need to get in a rhythm. So, we’re going to to figure it out.”

Al Horford will return after a load management night. Trey Burke will be listed as questionable and go through pregame warmups. He missed Tuesday’s game with left calf tightness. 

Don’t expect a shootout

The Magic are shooting a league-worst 28.2 percent from three-point range. At 33.4 percent, the Sixers are tied for 21st. 

This certainly looks like it might be a low-scoring game. All of the teams currently in the top 10 in defensive rating have a winning record besides the Magic, who are No. 3. They had the second-best defensive rating last season after the trade deadline, too, so their defense doesn’t seem to be a fluke. Jonathan Isaac has 30 blocks, the most in the league. 

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The highlight Mike Scott remembers to stay positive

The highlight Mike Scott remembers to stay positive

It’s hard to imagine Mike Scott being negative.

Since he arrived in a trade from the Clippers last season, Scott has become a fan favorite and steady, veteran contributor. He immersed himself even more into Philadelphia over the summer by crashing weddings and taking part in Nerf gun wars.

But even the most jovial and fun people can fall victim to negative thoughts. In the past, he’s let it affect his play on the court.

“You don’t want anything negative going through your mind because you’re not going to perform well,” Scott said. “I’ve done it before. I’ve had games or something off the court has happened and I was feeling bad or I just wasn’t myself. It factors in your play a lot."

As he’s gotten older, Scott has gotten better at staying positive.

One of his secrets? Watching old highlights of himself playing well. 

His biggest moment as a Sixers occurred when he hit a game-winning three in Game 4 of the team’s first-round playoff matchup against the Nets. That shot gave the Sixers a commanding 3-1 series lead.

“I always go back to that Game 4 Brooklyn shot,” Scott said. “That shot felt good. I felt like I wasn’t really contributing like I wanted to, I didn’t have the game that I wanted to, but that shot did feel good and I always go back to that shot. It makes me feel like I can play in this league, I belong in this league, I can hit big shots.”

Scott talked about the power of positivity and having teammates you can depend on in an interview, which you can watch above.

NBC Sports Regional Networks has launched a multi-platform campaign on mental health and men's health, HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports, for the month of November. You can find more information about the initiative here.

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