Sixers fall short against Timberwolves

Posted: February 21, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS - Coming off the All-Star break and playing their first game in 7 days, you would think the 76ers were mentally and physically rested and primed to make a playoff push in the final 31 games of the season, starting Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

So it wasn't a very good sign when Nikola Pekovic won the game's opening tap to guard Ricky Rubio, who threw a halfcourt alley-oop to Andrei Kirilenko for an easy layup - only 5 seconds into the contest.

It didn't get much better after that, as the Timberwolves won for only the fourth time in 20 games, holding off the Sixers, 94-87, and improving to 20-31.

"The first play was kind of a microcosm of how the night went, him getting behind us for a lob and right away kind of taking the air out of it," Spencer Hawes said. "We're not in a position to let a lot of that stuff happen. Not at this point."

Pekovic bulled his 6-11, 281-pound frame into anything that remotely tried to stop him and collected 27 points and 18 rebounds. The four-guard rotation of starters Rubio and Luke Ridnour and subs J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved got wherever they wanted on the court and were perfect complements to the team's inside power, and forwards Kirilenko and Derrick Williams gladly picked up whatever was left offensively, combining for 32 points, while pulling down 13 rebounds.

"Rubio [11 points, six each of rebounds and assists] is such a great playmaker, he sees the floor very well," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "You turn your head and he's going to make you pay for it. He's a great bounce passer to guys rolling to the basket, and he's a very underrated shooter. Here last year, he had a big game against us and shot the ball very, very well. Barea hurts us with the pick-and-roll. Ridnour hurts us, he can shoot the ball, he's feisty. Those three guards have hurt us."

The loss was the seventh straight on the road for the Sixers, who last won away from home on New Year's Day against the Lakers. They are 6-17 on the road this season.

Though the game seemed to last far longer than it should have, courtesy of 53 fouls called, Collins did not need long to assess this one.

"[Pekovic] crushed us, and they get to the line 44 times [with 33 makes]," he said. "The keys to the game tonight were rebounding, points in the paint and free throws. They made 33 points at the free-throw line, they had 34 points in the paint and outrebounded us by 12 [51-39]. We played terribly. 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 Sixers managed to cut the lead to as little as four in the final quarter, mainly because of Minnesota's inability to shoot, as the Timberwolves made only one of their 12 shots in the final 12 minutes. The T-Wolves more than made up for it by making 16 of 22 free throws in the final period.

While Minnesota's guards zoomed around the court, its big men followed Pekovic's lead and flexed their muscles, even if they really didn't have many. At times, especially in the first half, Mickael Gelabale (6-7 and 215) and Dante Cunningham (6-8, 225) had no problem forcing their way to the basket on the offensive end and pushing the bigger Sixers' players away from it at the other end.

In the first half, when the Timberwolves bolted to a 56-41 lead, Pekovic (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Williams (12) had already combined for 26 points, 16 rebounds and made 11 of their 17 shots. Their success prompted Collins to sit starting bigs Hawes and Lavoy Allen to begin the second half in favor of Kwame Brown and Damien Wilkins. In the first half, Hawes and Allen combined for only seven points and five rebounds in close to 33 minutes. The action was Brown's first in four games.

It was the eighth consecutive game that the Sixers failed to score above 92 points. During that time, they are averaging only 85.5 points.

"We just didn't have it," guard Jrue Holiday said. "We just didn't have it from the beginning. We fought back, got in some foul trouble and sent them to the line, but we just didn't have it. I think we came out kind of tired. That dude [Pekovic] is a load down there in the middle. Obviously, we want to foul him, because he's not a great free- throw shooter, but they got a better start than we did."

The alarming part of what Holiday said is that the team was tired, even though it was only the first game after the All-Star break.

Evan Turner scored 17 for the Sixers (22-30), while Holiday added 16, Wilkins 13 and Dorell Wright 10.

It was the 22nd straight game the Timberwolves played without star Kevin Love, sidelined with a broken hand. They are 5-17 without him.

Young update

Thaddeus Young missed his fifth straight game because of a strained hamstring he suffered Feb. 4. Young did some work at the team's morning shootaround and was on the court well before the game before getting more treatment. Barring a setback (theme of the season for the Sixers?) he could return next week. 

On Twitter: @BobCooney76


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