Timberwolves, 76ers seek consistency

MINNEAPOLIS — Thanks to two of the most talented, new-generation centers along with talented newcomers, the Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves had high hopes entering this season.

December is not going the way either team expected as the 76ers travel to face the Timberwolves on Tuesday.

The immense expectations heaped on the Timberwolves with the addition of star Jimmy Butler to center Karl-Anthony Towns have led to some disappointment despite Minnesota sitting at 16-11 and fourth in the Western Conference.

After alternating wins and losses over 12 games, the Timberwolves were pleased simply to come away with a victory against the last-place Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night, 97-92.

“The best part is we found a way to win, so we’ll take the positives as they are,” Towns said.

Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau echoed the Towns’ remarks, saying, “Just win.”

Philadelphia center Joel Embiid has missed three of the team’s six games in December. The 76ers (13-13) are 1-5 this month, and they have lost four straight after a 131-124 defeat at New Orleans on Sunday.

“We have to be more consistent and make the right plays every time,” 76ers rookie Ben Simmons said. “When we make mistakes and do not have guys like Joel and (Robert Covington) to make up for it, it gets tough. We have to just come together as a team and get through it.”

Simmons was one of the new arrivals on the court after his first season was wiped out by injury. He has been everything expected, producing averages of 18.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game. Veteran J.J. Redick also joined the team, providing more optimism in Philadelphia.

Injuries and defense have hurt the Sixers.

Embiid is questionable for the Tuesday game because of back tightness, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which also reported Covington is questionable due to a lower back contusion. Sixers coach Brett Brown said on Sunday that Covington likely is out.

“He’s hurting,” Brown said. “My suspicion is he will be out the next two games.”

Philadelphia guard T.J. McConnell is expected back after sitting out Saturday and Sunday due to a left shoulder ailment.

“It’s unfortunate, but the next guy has been able to step up for us, and play extremely hard,” Sixers forward Amir Johnson told the team’s website. “We’re giving it a good fight. We came up short these last couple games. We just got to be better.”

For the season, the Sixers are 14th in the league in defensive rating, but Embiid’s absence has certainly hurt. The 131 points surrendered on Sunday were the most all season. Philadelphia has allowed at least 100 points in each of its past nine games.

Minnesota is 26th in the NBA in defensive rating but is possibly coming around on the defensive end after much focus and consternation. The Wolves have held two of their past three opponents below 100 points. Dallas shot just 41 percent in the second half on Sunday.

“We still have our lapses at times,” Butler said. “We’re getting better.”

Thibodeau has narrowed the team’s approach, focusing on one improvement at a time.

“One of the things we’ve been talking about and working on is the defensive transition,” Thibodeau said. “I thought that was a lot better. Obviously, there’s other things we have to lock into as well, but I want the focus to be on improvement.

“I thought Karl got off to a great start (against the Mavericks), and I thought that was important to play inside and out, and Jimmy was terrific, as was Taj (Gibson). Their toughness has added so much to our team. I thought Jamal (Crawford) and (Gorgui Dieng) gave us great minutes off the bench.”