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.