The Philadelphia 76ers had a chance to close within three games of the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 20. All the Sixers had to do was beat a lowly Minnesota Timberwolves squad that doesn’t even have Kevin Love available. But if the Sixers could take advantage of opportunities like that, they wouldn’t be on the outside of the playoff picture to begin with.
The Sixers proved why by falling behind big to the Timberwolves, then by falling short with a second half rally and losing by 94-87. Despite a strong second half for Philadelphia, it didn’t erase how it gave up 56 points in the first half and trailed by 15 points at halftime.
Four Timberwolves starters had double figures, led by Nikola Pekovic’s 27 points. Even without Love to rack up rebounds, Minnesota had 51 total boards to Philadelphia’s 39, with 18 for Pekovic alone. There were plenty of chances for rebounds since neither team shot well, yet the Timberwolves’ 40 percent shooting beating out the Sixers’ 38.3 percent from the floor.
The Timberwolves ended the first half of the season on a 3-16 skid, yet the Sixers still made them look good to start the second half. In fact, Philadelphia trailed for the entire game, despite having much more urgency on paper than Minnesota.
The Sixers are facing the Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls over the next week, so they couldn’t afford to pass up a much easier chance for victory. If they couldn’t even beat the Timberwolves, surviving this next stretch of games may be way too difficult. But if they don’t win any of these games, their playoff deficit may become way too difficult to climb out of, even with a month-and-a-half remaining.
With that in mind, perhaps the Sixers would be more inclined to make a trade before this afternoon’s deadline, in order to generate some kind of jolt. Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes would be the most likely trade bait, although Turner did get 14 points in the third quarter to start Philadelphia’s second half run. Yet Hawes was overmatched against Pekovic and hardly helped his trade value.
The Sixers are at the mercy of Andrew Bynum’s knees, their 22-30 record and their inability to get hot. With those obstacles, there’s only so much Philadelphia can do with so few moves available.