Road-weary Sixers blasted by Timberwolves

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Road-weary Sixers blasted by Timberwolves

BOX SCORE

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.

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Sixers, Magic get glimpse into future with young talent on full display

Sixers, Magic get glimpse into future with young talent on full display

The Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic on Friday was not the game to watch for those looking for competitive basketball, as the Magic needed just three quarters to put the game out of reach (see Instant Replay).

What the game did have was some of the NBA’s top young talent.

Friday night featured six first-round picks from the 2014 NBA draft. Joel Embiid (No. 3), Aaron Gordon (No. 4), Nik Stauskas (No. 8), Elfrid Payton (No. 10) and Dario Saric (No. 12) were all lottery selections in 2014.

Add in Sixers center Jahlil Okafor and Magic guard Mario Hezonja, who were both top-five picks in 2015, and that’s seven top-12 picks from the last three draft classes, not even counting the injured Ben Simmons.

“Basketball’s a small world, you grow up playing these guys," Gordon said of the Sixers. "Those guys are talented. They have a young group of guys that are going to get better and better each time they play.”

Though he played only 27 minutes, Embiid finished the game with 25 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four assists for the Sixers (see story). Okafor had a double-double of his own, adding 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Gordon, who is averaging 9.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, led the Magic with 20 points and also added two rebounds.

“He did pretty good,” Embiid said of Gordon. “He shot the ball pretty well tonight.”

The other four lottery selections struggled a bit. Payton played 24 minutes and finished with two points and four assists, while Hezonja missed both of his shot attempts in just three minutes of playing time.

Stauskas went scoreless, going 0 for 6 from the floor, finishing with five assists and three turnovers, while Saric went 1 for 5 from the field and turned the ball over twice

“It’s just about being patient, really,” Stauskas said. “We know our time will come eventually. It’s just about being patient and continuing to work hard, whether it’s next year or the year after, eventually things are going to click and this team is going to become a legit playoff team in the East, it’s just a matter of time before it happens.”

Even with a plethora of top-round talent, the Magic have struggled over the past two seasons, much like the Sixers. Orlando hadn't won more than 25 games in a season since 2012-13 before going 35-47 last year.

Despite the abundance of talent, both teams are waiting for their players to develop. Both the Sixers and Magic entered Friday’s game among the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference. If their draft choices pan out, it wouldn't be surprising to see the two teams closer to the top of the conference and right in the thick of the playoff race in a few years. 

“Eventually they’re going to get there,” Magic center Bismack Biyombo said of the Sixers. “Like all young teams, you go through struggles before you face success. That’s just how life is. They have to learn the hard way. We’ve all been through the process like that but you always have to stay patient and see a great future ahead. Obviously they have a lot of talented kids that sooner or later, they’ll know more about the league and establish themselves.”