There’s little question Jimmy Butler’s new team is better than his old one.
Butler and the Sixers (29-16) resoundingly beat the Timberwolves on Tuesday night, 149-107, in the first game between the two teams since their trade in November.
The Sixers now face a challenging stretch before the All-Star Break that includes games against six of the current top-eight teams in the Western Conference, beginning Thursday night at the Pacers.
• Butler was deferential early, despite the Sixers running plenty of plays for him. He didn’t attempt his first field goal until over nine minutes into the game and didn’t score his first points until early in the second quarter, on a three-point shot from the left wing off some nice two-man action with Joel Embiid.
And a Buckets bucket, just for your viewing pleasure.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 16, 2019
Butler nails one from beyond and the Sixers are up, 52-35. pic.twitter.com/FKnwQqltap
He looked like himself after that, finishing with 19 points on 8 for 10 shooting.
• The team prepared a video tribute for the returning Dario Saric, Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless that played in the middle of the first quarter.
Dario Saric and Robert Covington tribute video pic.twitter.com/52C6RAfOT7— Paul Hudrick (@PaulHudrick) January 16, 2019
Saric and Covington got a loud, sustained ovation for their time in Philadelphia, while Bayless heard a few boos.
Covington, who is sidelined with a right ankle injury, did travel with the Timberwolves. He was spotted about two hours before the game giving hugs to members of the Sixers Dunk Squad.
Saric had 11 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes.
The crowd’s favorite play of the night came in the third quarter, when T.J. McConnell crossed over Saric, drained a mid-range jumper, then gave his good friend a pat on the behind.
T.J. just couldn't resist the urge to troll his old teammate Dario a little bit after beating him for the bucket 😆. pic.twitter.com/8ORkY2gmoI— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 16, 2019
• Embiid decisively won his matchup against Karl-Anthony Towns, posting 31 points and 13 rebounds.
Towns had 13 points and three rebounds and was a game-worst minus-42.
The Timberwolves’ big man is a skilled, versatile offensive player, but he’s not in Embiid’s league defensively. In general, Minnesota is just a bad defensive team without Covington.
• When Ben Simmons builds up a head of steam in the open floor, it’s typically going to end poorly for opposing teams.
He predictably had a ton of success in transition against the Timberwolves. The Sixers also used Simmons as a screener on a few pick-and-rolls with Butler, an action which netted Simmons a dunk on one occasion.
In fact, just about everything the Sixers tried on offense was effective. The Embiid-JJ Redick two-man game, Butler pick-and-rolls with Simmons and Embiid, Simmons finding shooters on the break — it was all working.
The Sixers easily surpassed their previous season high of 133 points.
• Wilson Chandler looked as good as he has as a Sixer, breaking out of his shooting slump with 14 points on 5 for 7 shooting, five rebounds and four assists.
Since Christmas, Chandler had been shooting 31.6 percent from the floor, 23.5 percent from three-point territory.
Perhaps most encouraging for the Sixers is that Chandler stepped into his shot without any hesitation. Chandler is very much the fifth wheel of the starting lineup, but he shouldn’t have the lowest usage rate (11 percent) of any Sixer.
• More often than not, Jonah Bolden has made positive contributions off the bench for the Sixers over the past few weeks.
Those positives have usually been, in part, offset by major negatives — he’s good for a couple bad fouls or a head-scratching turnover most nights.
But Bolden moves his feet on the perimeter and protects the rim well, and he adds a little bit of athleticism that the Sixers’ bench has been lacking.
We saw all those qualities on Tuesday, and Bolden, a 16 percent three-point shooter entering the game, also made four long-range shots.
You wonder how Bolden’s emergence might affect the Sixers’ priorities as the Feb. 7 trade deadline approaches. The rookie is raw, an inconsistent shooter (to put it kindly) and has no track record in the NBA, so it still wouldn’t be surprising if the Sixers wanted to acquire a backup center.
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