Jessica Camerato

Sixers-Timberwolves observations: Salvaging the road trip

Sixers-Timberwolves observations: Salvaging the road trip

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MINNEAPOLIS — Joel Embiid scored 28 in his return, and JJ Redick added 26 points as the 76ers defeated Minnesota, 118-112, in overtime on Tuesday.

Embiid, who missed the Sixers’ last two games with back tightness, tied the game with a pair of free throws with 14 seconds remaining in regulation. He finished the night 11 for 12 from the free throw line and 8 for 16 from the field, a stat line that included a three-pointer with 1:39 remaining in overtime.

The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Sixers (14-13), who had struggled in the fourth quarter in their recent losses. The team trailed, 86-77, with six minutes remaining in regulation Tuesday but went on a 14-4 run that culminated with Richaun Holmes' three-point play with 2:17 to go.

Holmes finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds as he played 33 minutes while filling in for the injured Robert Covington. Dario Saric added 14 points and eight rebounds in 40 minutes.

• Embiid appeared comfortable throughout the night, moving past Minnesota defenders for dunks on several plays while guarding Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng. He fell in pain late in the third quarter under the Sixers' basket but returned early in the fourth and played a total of 39 minutes, a new career high. He also nearly had a triple-double by adding 12 rebounds and eight assists. 

• Backup point guard T.J. McConnell also returned for the Sixers after missing five of the past six games with a shoulder injury. He made his first three shots and also didn't appear to have trouble with movement as he finished with seven points in 26 minutes.

• Redick was just 6 for 15 shooting but scored 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. 

• Ben Simmons was also surprisingly quiet for most of the night. He went most of regulation without a point as Minnesota's Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins guarded him. But Simmons scored seven points in the game's final 6:17, including two baskets in the final 1:17, and also added eight assists (see highlights).

• The 76ers struggled with turnovers throughout regulation but committed just one in overtime. They still finished with a season-high 24, many coming on errant cross-floor passes.

• The team mitigated the turnovers by limiting Minnesota to just 41.7 percent shooting in regulation, including just 3 for 24 from three-point range. Butler was the Timberwolves' most effective scorer as he finished with a game-high 38 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter. However, the Timberwolves were 4 for 12 shooting in overtime.

• The Sixers limited Minnesota's ability to drive to the basket throughout the night as they forced the Timberwolves to take lower-percentage two-pointers. The Timberwolves (16-12) had just two turnovers in the first half but finished the game with 10. Wiggins scored 20 and Towns added 17 for Minnesota.

• Veteran forward Trevor Booker scored 12 points on 6 for 8 shooting in his third game with the Sixers since joining the team in last week’s trade with Brooklyn.

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

NEW ORLEANS — The Sixers have hit a four-game skid and there is not a clearly defined way out of it thanks to a laundry list of injuries.

“I think it’s painfully obvious,” Brett Brown said of what needs to be done. “Let’s get our better players back in a uniform.”

The Sixers have to play their best with their pieces available down two starters (Joel Embiid, Robert Covington) and a key bench player (T.J. McConnell).

There are adjustments that can be made to prevent a losing streak from spiraling the Sixers down in the standings.

“We need to be just smarter,” Dario Saric said. “I know we are a young team. I know are playing without Joel, without our very important players … we need to find a way. We need to be more calm down, don’t be nervous, especially on defense.” 

Saric pointed to the Sixers’ late-game defense in their 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). They were tied with eight minutes to play before the Pelicans hit threes on their next four straight possessions. Jrue Holiday drained four treys himself during a five-minute stretch to push the lead to 11. The Sixers were outscored 44-29 in the fourth quarter.

“In that situation, to me, we are playing like a high school team,” Saric said. “That cannot happen. We need to be smarter at that point. I hope we will grow up and we will be mentally ready for that last five, six, seven minutes.”

The Sixers also were in the position to come back Saturday in Cleveland. They trailed the Cavaliers, 99-98, with 1:39 to play and did not score after that point.

It was during that final stretch when Covington landed out of bounds and suffered a lower back contusion. A day later, Embiid was a late scratch because of lower back tightness (see story). McConnell has missed five of the last six games with a left shoulder injury.

“We’ve got to be consistent with making the right plays every time,” Ben Simmons said. “It’s hard to make mistakes without those guys there. When you make mistakes and you don’t have Jo or Cov and guys like that to make up for that, it’s tough. But we’ve got to just come together as a team and get through it.” 

The Sixers don't have it easy their next two games. They face the Timberwolves (16-11) Tuesday in Minnesota when Embiid said he expects to play but has not been cleared. Covington is doubtful, while McConnell's status is to be determined. The Sixers return home Friday from a three-game road trip to host the Thunder (12-13).

Joel Embiid: 'If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone'

Joel Embiid: 'If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone'

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NEW ORLEANS — Joel Embiid is trying to kick back tightness he has been dealing with since Thursday.

Embiid was a late scratch for the Sixers in Sunday's 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). He said he began to experience the tightness while playing Thursday against the Lakers. Embiid received treatment during the game but felt "pretty sore" after.

The big man already was slated to miss one of the two back-to-backs in Cleveland and New Orleans because of his medical restriction. He sat Saturday, but when he warmed up pregame Sunday, he still didn’t feel healthy enough to go.

“I tried to warm up earlier but I couldn't,” Embiid said. “If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone. But we've got 82 games and they don't want me to push if I'm not a hundred percent, so that's what I did.”

The Sixers need Embiid (23.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.0 blocks) back on the court. They have dropped to 13-13 on a four-game losing streak, including these last two without him. Embiid is an integral part of the Sixers’ defense, especially against a Pelicans team with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis in the frontcourt. The two bigs combined for 52 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks. 

Embiid said he expects to play in the Sixers' next game, Tuesday in Minnesota. Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns is posting 19.8 points, 11.6 boards and 1.3 blocks per game this season. Embiid still has to work out Monday before there is a decision on his availability. In the meantime, he is receiving massage treatment.

“I just got to keep resting for a couple days and see how it feels day-by-day,” Embiid said. “But it's been getting better. It's a lot, much better.”

Embiid is the latest Sixers to be added to the list of injuries. Robert Covington suffered a lower back contusion Saturday and is doubtful for Tuesday (see story). T.J. McConnell continues to be hampered by a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. He has missed five of his last six games. Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) and Justin Anderson (left leg) are weeks out from another reevaluation.