Sixers sluggish in 'terrible' loss to Timberwolves


Sixers sluggish in 'terrible' loss to Timberwolves


MINNEAPOLIS -- One of the worst things that can happen over the course of an NBA season is for a team to find itself out of the playoff hunt with plenty of the regular season left to play.

The Sixers are on the verge of being in that predicament.

It started with a loss in Milwaukee before the All-Star break and continued with a dismal showing in Minnesota on Wednesday night during a 94-87 loss to the Timberwolves (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers are now eight games under .500 (22-30) with 30 games to play in the regular season.

The final scoreboard displayed all the evidence of another defeat, but the lasting impression for Doug Collins was the first quarter in which the Sixers gave up 35 points and allowed Minnesota to shoot 59 percent from the floor.

“We played terribly,” Collins said. “I don't know what else to say. It was terrible. No energy, no life at all. It was terrible. I can't candy-coat it any more than that. The only thing we did in the second half was compete. We didn't play well, we just played harder.”

Despite trailing by as many as 19 points in the first half, the Sixers still had an opportunity to cut the lead to two with a minute to play. They limited Minnesota to just one made field goal in the fourth quarter. However, competing late couldn’t erase the lackadaisical start.

Andrei Kirilenko scored on an all-oop pass off the game’s opening tip. The Timberwolves proceeded to pull down twice as many rebounds as the Sixers in the first quarter, get to the foul line for 10 free throw attempts and notch 10 assists on 13 made field goals.

“The first play was a microcosm of how the night went,” Spencer Hawes said. “Kirilenko getting behind us for a lob like that. Right away they took the air out. We are not in a position to allow stuff like that to happen. Not at this point.”

“From the jump for us it was hard to get a rhythm,” Jrue Holiday said. “They started off pretty well, making nice passes and moving the ball. In the beginning, it was a little sloppy. We were turning the ball over.

“But again, that could be just coming back from the break. We had a good two days of practice, so I don’t know.”

On the Sixers’ white prior to tipoff, the coaches had listed rebounding, points in the paint and the foul line as keys to the game. Underneath the keys was one sentence that read, “Play like you practiced.”

The Sixers failed on all four points. They were outrebounded by 12 (51-39). The Sixers lost the battle in the paint by two points and made 11 less free throws that the Timberwolves.

If Holiday was accurate about the team’s two recent practices, the Sixers came up incredibly short on that goal as well.

“We just didn’t have it. We just didn’t have it from the beginning,” he said. “We fought back, got in some foul trouble and sent them to the line, but we just didn’t have it.”

That wasn’t the case for Nikola Pekovic. The Timberwolves’ big man scored a season-high 27 points and tied a season high with 18 rebounds. He was 9 of 16 from the floor and 9 for 15 at the foul line.

“He is a beast,” Hawes said. “The way they run their systems, they do a great job getting their people the ball where they want it, and if you take away one thing they know how to exploit it.

“I think we could learn a lesson from that. Take away the primary option and they go to the counter, and then they know how to make it happen going forward.”

In addition to Pekovic the Timberwolves got solid frontcourt play from Derrick Williams and Andrei Kirilenko, who combined for 32 points.

The Sixers were led in scoring by Evan Turner, who had 17 points. Damien Wilkins (13 points) and Dorell Wright (10 points) led a bench effort that outscored their Minnesota counterparts, 31-16.

That was about the only area the Sixers could claim a victory in on this night.

The Sixers will now have two days to prepare for Saturday when the defending champion Miami Heat come to the Wells Fargo Center for the first of four meetings this season between the two teams.

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

MIAMI — It’s a cautious optimism to be sure — there can be no other type for the Sixers right now given their history of injuries — but you can tell the team is starting to get excited about Joel Embiid.

In Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat (see game story), Embiid scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The 7-0 center, who missed his first two NBA seasons because of foot surgeries, made 8 of 16 shots and 2 of 2 on free throws, adding a game-high nine rebounds.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a complete player — that’s what I do,” Embiid said. “I’m starting to get easy points.

“I just got better every game [in the preseason], defensively, offensively.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he is still learning how to best use Embiid.

Brown added that the rust is apparent in Embiid’s game. But …

“He is as self-taught as any player I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He grew up in Cameroon and hasn’t played a lot (because of injuries). But he studies, he looks at stuff. He pays attention. He’s instinctively curious.

“There’s a lot of stuff in his head that he thinks through. His mind is quicker than his feet. At times, his core, his balance and his decision-making are off because his mind is working faster than his body.”

Embiid scored most of his buckets on Friday at close range — a finger roll, a tip-in, a couple of put-back dunks, an alley-oop dunk and a fast-break layup. But he did make a 10-foot jumper and took — but missed — a three-point try.

“He does stuff in a game that makes you step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Brown said. “He will trail and hit a three. He will have a pound, pound drop-step, dunk.

“Like a traditional post, he will turn his face and make a bank shot. He has that up-and-under stuff.

“But he’s raw. His preseason has been highlighted by those few things that you notice, all under the umbrella of, ‘He really has a chance to be very, very good.’"

Brown was asked to summarize the Sixers' 2-5 preseason, and he called it a “completely erratic” exhibition season because of injuries.

“Jahlil [Okafor] hasn’t practiced,” Brown said. “Joel has been steady and incremental. I think we all see that Dario Saric has got a lot to offer. I think the pairing of Joel and Dario was solid.

“We’ve seen Jerami [Grant] have a really good preseason. Richaun Holmes has taken his opportunity to play big minutes. Those type of things come to my mind.”