Sixers sluggish in 'terrible' loss to Timberwolves

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Sixers sluggish in 'terrible' loss to Timberwolves

BOX SCORE

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.

NBA Playoffs: Celtics win 3rd straight to grab series lead over Bulls

NBA Playoffs: Celtics win 3rd straight to grab series lead over Bulls

BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley scored 24 points apiece to help the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 108-97 on Wednesday night and take a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series.

After the road team won each of the first four games, the Celtics won at home in Game 5 to earn a chance to eliminate the Bulls on Friday night in Chicago. A Bulls victory would force the series back to Boston for a decisive Game 7 on Sunday.

Dwyane Wade had 26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists for Chicago.

But Wade and Robin Lopez were called for technical fouls 32 seconds apart with just under five minutes left, helping the Celtics to a 20-5 run that turned an 84-84 game into a 15-point Boston lead.

The Bulls cut it to nine before Al Horford got loose for a dunk, Wade missed a 3-pointer and then Horford fed Jae Crowder for a layup that made it 108-95 with 99 seconds to play.

Despite the technical fouls, there was little of the tension that characterized Game 4, when Jimmy Butler and Marcus Smart got in each other's face on the court and continued the criticism in their postgame comments (see full recap).

Beal, Wall push Wizards past Hawks for 3-2 series lead
WASHINGTON -- John Wall figured the credit went to the down-the-stretch defense displayed by his Washington Wizards.

Neither Dennis Schroder nor coach Mike Budenholzer found any flaws with the way their Atlanta Hawks handled things late.

Either way, the odd manner in which Atlanta seemed to allow the final half-minute or so to slip away while trailing -- not fouling Washington to try to extend things; passing around the ball, instead of shooting it, as the clock headed toward zero -- left the Wizards on the verge of closing out the teams' Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.

Back at home, and back in charge, Bradley Beal scored 27 points, and Wall added 20 points and 14 assists, leading Washington to a 103-99 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday night for a 3-2 series lead.

"I thought they were going to play the foul game -- or at least try to trap. But they let us run the clock down," Wall said, noting that he felt as if he and his teammates finished "with the best scrambling defense we had."

Schroder led the Hawks with 29 points, making a career high-tying five 3s, and 11 assists. But after his basket from beyond the arc pulled Atlanta within 101-99 with 70 seconds left, Wall responded with a 21-foot pull-up jumper. Neither team would score the rest of the way (see full recap).

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Jahlil Okafor

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor

Position: Center

Status for 2017-18: Guaranteed — $4,995,120

Okafor in 2016-17
Okafor's second NBA season was up-and-down from the start. He dealt with right knee soreness during training camp and appeared in only one preseason game.

Once the regular season began, he was in a fluctuating role of backing up Joel Embiid and starting when Embiid was out. In December, the Sixers experimented with starting Okafor and Embiid together. They were not able to work out the challenges of two true centers sharing the court, the same situation the Sixers faced last season with Okafor and Nerlens Noel.

Okafor's season took another turn in early January. Noel slid into the backup center spot and Okafor fell out of the regular rotation. Okafor started when Embiid did not play and moved back into the starting lineup consistently once Embiid was sidelined in late January.

In February, the Sixers looked to trade Okafor at the deadline. They came so close to reaching a deal that they benched him and held him out of a road trip to Charlotte.

Instead, the Sixers sent Noel to the Mavericks. At that time Embiid still was sidelined by what turned into a season-ending injury. Okafor had the starting role locked up until injuries struck yet again. Okafor missed the final 11 games of the season because of right knee soreness.

He played in 50 games, three fewer than his rookie season that was cut short by meniscus surgery in his right knee. Okafor's stats tell the story of a frequently-changing season: 13.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in 33 games as a starter compared to 8.6 points and 3.9 boards in 17 games off the bench.

"It was an interesting year, something that I'm proud to say I handled the right way," Okafor said. "I can lay my head at night and know that I feel like I handled everything professionally."

Signature game
Okafor's strongest performance of the season was Feb. 25 against the Knicks. He scored a season-high 28 points along with 10 rebounds. Okafor took over down the stretch of this near-comeback for the Sixers. He scored 11 points in the fourth, including a go-ahead basket with nine seconds left before Carmelo Anthony hit the game-winner. Okafor, whose biggest need for improvement is defense, pulled down eight boards in the first half.

Looking ahead to 2017-18
There are two important facets of Okafor's offseason.

The first is health. This month Okafor said he had not discussed surgery for his lingering right knee soreness. He plans to spend time receiving treatment at the Sixers' training complex this offseason.

The second is determining where Okafor will play next season. The Sixers still are open to trading Okafor if a deal works for both player and team. Okafor has maintained he is happy being a member of the Sixers, and the Sixers have echoed they will welcome him back for a third season if a trade does not happen. How he would fit into the system would remain to be seen.

On Okafor
"He has an appropriate fear where he recognizes this is a hell of an important summer." -

- Head coach Brett Brown

"If a deal comes along that makes sense for both of us, then we'll go ahead and make the deal. But we're not in a race to make any decisions. We're taking a very measured toward path success and building an organization."

- President of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo

"The ability to expand his game is the exciting part for me. For us to say, 'This is Jahlil and that's only Jahlil and this is all he will ever be,' is just sort of unfair and not true."

- Brown