Thaddeus Young scored a team-high 20 points in the Sixers' 126-95 loss to the Timberwolves. (USA Today Images)
In a sense, the Sixers really haven’t come off their long, six-game road trip that covered 16 days. For as long as the team was in Philadelphia for Monday night’s game against the Timberwolves, it could have been in Minnesota or any other spot on the map.
That’s because the Sixers didn’t get back to Philadelphia until 5 a.m. on Sunday after flying all night following Saturday’s game in Portland. The cross-country flight didn’t even allow the Sixers a chance to unpack their bags because they have another flight on Monday night in order to get to Cleveland for Tuesday’s game.
So it wasn’t like the Sixers were even home at all. Given the 126-95 loss to the Timberwolves at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay), it looked as if the Sixers weren’t all there, too.
“That’s the goal of not getting complacent,” head coach Brett Brown said after the Sixers’ four-game winning streak came to a screeching halt. “That’s where we have to get better and get greedy. We had a successful road trip and we won some games and, yeah, we played a lot of games in a few days and had to fly from one end of the country to the other, but that’s the NBA. Everybody does it. You have to come on your home court and show the people that we’re getting better and we’re better than what we showed.
“That’s not us. That’s not who we are and a reflection of the improvement we have made.”
It was a rough one for the Sixers from the jump. Sure, they shot the ball well during the first half, connecting on 57.5 percent of their shots, including 59 percent of them in the first quarter. And Thad Young continued his white-hot play that got him Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with 13 points in the first quarter.
But 12 first-half turnovers -- eight of them in the second quarter -- led to 18 points for the Timberwolves. The Sixers were within six points with 3:27 to go in the first half, but six missed shots, a turnover, and a thin bench with Tony Wroten out with flu-like symptoms, opened the door for Minnesota to go on a 14-4 run to close the half.
From there, the Sixers got no closer than 18 points.
“It was a back-breaker for us. They were a step quicker,” said Young, who scored a team-high 20 points. “They were pushing it more. They were good defensively, but we didn’t make some plays we should have been making.”
The Sixers aren’t using tiredness, a short stop at home or a long cross-country flight as an excuse, though. After all, turnovers are typically caused by poor judgment or bad decisions. That’s the mental side of the game. The physical side may have left the Sixers a bit overwhelmed, too, but not enough to shoot nearly 60 percent during the first half.
The part that left Brown seething after the game was the mental aspect. The Sixers got down and then they checked out.
“It’s fair to point a finger at it from a physical side to a point, but that’s the hardness. That’s the evolution and the grooming of a program that has the ability to come back and move forward,” Brown explained. “I think there is a physical side of what you saw tonight, but the mental side of it upsets me far more. I feel that and see that far more than I see a fatigue side.”
Brown will get no argument from his players.
“After a while basketball is all mental,” said Evan Turner, who scored 13 points on nine shots in 25 minutes. “People get tired, but you really have to bounce back and stick together, especially with the squad we have.”
Brown and his 25-year-old veteran, Young, understand that the mental part of the game is where the true grind of the NBA season lies. Sure, the Sixers had to fly across the country after nearly three weeks on the road, only to leave a day later, but so what. Every team in the NBA has to make tough road trips.
No, the Sixers aren’t going to find a sympathetic ear from any of their brethren in the league.
“We didn’t get it done and that’s on me,” Brown said. “We have to find ways to keep moving forward and you can’t get too full of yourself. Complacency can’t creep in. It’s human nature to have a weakness and we had a weakness, and I feel like we didn’t show the qualities we have shown recently.”
The good part is the Sixers won’t have to wait long to get back out on the court. Only 90 minutes after the final horn sounded, the Sixers were on a flight to Cleveland for Tuesday’s game.
There’s no rest for the weary. That goes for mind and body.