76ers

Sixers 149, Timberwolves 107: Sixers dominate in Jimmy Butler's first game vs. his old team

Sixers 149, Timberwolves 107: Sixers dominate in Jimmy Butler's first game vs. his old team

BOX SCORE 

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. 

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.

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. 

• 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. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

They say that shooters shoot.

Tobias Harris has been shooting plenty — they just haven’t been going down.

After going 0 for 11 from three on Tuesday night against the Cavs, Harris went 0 for 3 and 3 of 13 overall in the Sixers’ loss to the Magic in Orlando Wednesday (see observations).

The last three Harris hit was in the first quarter of the Sixers’ loss in Phoenix on Nov. 4. He’s missed his last 23 attempts since.

When Harris was acquired from the Clippers last season, he was shooting 43.4 percent from downtown in a healthy sample size.

So what the heck is going on?

“I'm not making shots, I'm not in a rhythm,” Harris said to reporters postgame. “That's it. Obviously, it's easier said than done but I'm going to find my rhythm and once I do those shots are going to be there and they're going to be able to be made. Until then, I'll watch film and see the looks I can get, see the easy ones I can get to, but when they're not going for me, get to the free throw line. 

“In the fourth quarter I thought that was two questionable whistles, a travel and offensive [foul]. So those are two turnovers that kind of affected our fourth quarter. But I just gotta find a rhythm. That's it.”

On top of missing, Harris just looks indecisive. During early parts of the season, he appeared to be passing up open shots. In his pregame availability before Tuesday’s win, Brett Brown made a point to talk about needing Harris to have a scorer’s mentality.

Over the last two games, Harris seems like he doesn’t know when to shoot the basketball. After shooting so poorly from the outside against Cleveland, in Orlando he appeared to just get caught in between while trying to drive to the basket more.

It just seems like Harris is in his own head.

“I think it's just human nature,” Brown said. “He wants to please, he wants to shoot the ball, he wants to score, we need him to score.”

Harris is an easy target for fan ire. GM Elton Brand gave up an awful lot to get him before last year’s trade deadline. During the summer, the Sixers gave Harris a five-year, $180 million deal — the richest in franchise history.

But to his credit, Harris hasn’t made any excuses. He faced the music Wednesday night after not playing well and not feeling well.

Brown mentioned Tuesday that Harris had been dealing with an illness. Harris didn’t want to take the easy way out and attribute that to anything.

“When I get out there and play, I'm playing,” Harris said. “I'm under the weather, yeah, but if I get out there and play, I believe I can go.”

Forget the big contract and disappointing start for a second — Harris is a worker. He’s worked on his game tirelessly to rise to the level he did last season in L.A. During the offseason, he stepped up as a leader that all of his teammates are eager and willing to follow. He’s been depended upon by the young players and veterans alike.

Now, it may be Harris who needs their support.

“Tobias has had great looks and he's a great player, great shooter,” Ben Simmons said. “I mean, at times, everybody gets down when they're not playing their best game. They know that they can do better. But he's one of those guys. He's always positive. And we all believe in him.”

The Sixers’ road trip continues Friday with a date with the Thunder. Oklahoma City is the site of Harris’ finest game as a Sixer. On Feb. 28 of last year, Harris poured in 32 points and led a tough road win without Joel Embiid.

Maybe the memory of that game will spark something in Harris.

If that doesn't work, what else can you really say?

“Keep shooting,” Brown said. “Don't listen to any of you guys. Don't read anything. Keep shooting.”

After all, shooters shoot.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

sixers-talk-tobias-harris.jpg
NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Tobias Harris' struggles continuing, Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot the ball, and why Matisse Thybulle isn't seeing more playing time.

• Another rough night for Harris. What the heck is going on?

• Simmons was strong, but still refuses to shoot the basketball outside the paint.

• Should Thybulle be getting more minutes?

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers