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.

Ben Simmons healing on schedule; Joel Embiid out tonight; Jahlil Okafor downgraded

Ben Simmons healing on schedule; Joel Embiid out tonight; Jahlil Okafor downgraded

Ben Simmons had a planned foot scan Monday in New York and is progressing as expected.

Simmons suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot nearly four months ago, Sept. 30, and there is still no timetable for his NBA debut.

Okafor downgraded
Jahlil Okafor was limited at shootaround Tuesday and has been downgraded to questionable for tonight's game against the Clippers. He had been listed as probable on Monday.

Okafor is dealing with right knee soreness he experienced on Saturday. The Sixers kept an eye on him Monday and held him out of 5-on-5 drills in practice. Okafor said the team was being cautious, and he wanted to rest his knee given the number of games coming up.

"It was bothering me a little bit in the warmup lines, I started to feel it. When I got going, it started feeling really good, then when I sat out for an extended period, it got kind of sore on me again," Okafor said Monday.

Embiid out
Joel Embiid, dealing with a left knee contusion suffered in last Friday's win over Portland, is officially out tonight. He is also expected to miss Wednesday's game at Milwaukee before returning Friday vs. the Rockets.

Sixers-Clippers 5 things: Big men, minus Joel Embiid, in the spotlight

Sixers-Clippers 5 things: Big men, minus Joel Embiid, in the spotlight

The Sixers (15-27) on Tuesday night open their latest back-to-back set against the LA Clippers (30-16) at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and streaming live on the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Missing in action
The Sixers are used to missing Joel Embiid for at least one game of back-to-back sets. However, they will have to forge ahead without him in both contests coming up on consecutive days.

Embiid will miss the Sixers' games on Tuesday and Wednesday after suffering a left knee contusion in the team's 93-92 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday. The matchups will mark three straight absences for the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after he was sidelined for the Sixers' blowout loss in Atlanta Saturday.

The Sixers haven't exactly been able to survive without Embiid's production this season. They are 2-10 minus the Rookie of the Year frontrunner and have allowed 106.5 points in those games.

Brett Brown challenged his team to perform better — particularly on defense — during this upcoming stint without Embiid.

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said after practice Monday. “I think you go with Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us. The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens, really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

2. The Blake Show is back
While the Sixers will be without their star big man in Tuesday's tilt, the Clippers are expected to get one of theirs back.

Blake Griffin is likely to return to action against the Sixers after missing 18 games following right knee surgery.

Griffin was averaging 21.2 points and 8.8 rebounds this season as the Clippers jumped out to a 20-6 record. Griffin underwent an arthroscopic procedure to remove loose bodies from the knee on Dec. 19, and the Clips have recorded just a 10-8 mark since.

With fellow superstar Chris Paul sidelined with an injured thumb, getting the five-time All-Star Griffin back should be a major boost for the Clippers.

3. Take care
The Clippers may not be the force they once were in the open court (15th in the NBA with 12.7 fastbreak points per game this season), but that doesn't mean they still can't revert to their Lob City ways in the blink of an eye.

That could be the case on Tuesday if the Sixers continue to turn the ball over at such an alarming rate.

The Sixers, last in the league with 17.1 turnovers per game, have somehow been even worse during this recent string of success. They have committed 19.4 turnovers a night over the last five games and 17.8 during the last 10 contests.

The Sixers have been able to survive thanks to their active defense creating opportunities on offense and some clutch shooting. However, with Embiid sidelined and facing a Clippers team that ranks in the top five in field-goal and three-point percentage, those miscues may come back to haunt the Sixers.

4. Injuries
Okafor (knee) is questionable. Embiid (knee), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Griffin (knee) is probable. Paul (thumb) and Brice Johnson (back) are out for the Clippers.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost nine straight games to the Clippers.

• Ersan Ilyasova is averaging 17.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game during January.

• DeAndre Jordan has averaged a double-double of 11.3 points and 12.8 rebounds against the Sixers in his career.