Minnesota is the NBA’s youngest team, averaging 23.6 years of age, yet the youthful Timberwolves entered the season with the hope of finally breaking the franchise’s long playoff drought.
The Wolves, however, aren’t jelling quickly under new coach Tom Thibodeau, and a Tuesday home loss to the Charlotte Hornets didn’t sit well. They will try to turn it around Thursday when they play host to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Minnesota (3-7) had won two of three games before Tuesday, and the offense’s performance was among the best in the league. Then the Hornets pulled away with a big second half to beat Minnesota, leaving the Timberwolves’ development as a postgame topic.
“We could use youth as an excuse forever; your opponent doesn’t care that you’re young,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve got guys who’ve been in the league for a while now, we’re making mistakes that never should be made — from fouling jump shooters, reckless passes, turnovers — it’s all decision-making.”
The 76ers (2-9) know youthful mistakes, too. Philadelphia, the fourth-youngest team in the league, opened the season with seven straight losses. On Wednesday, the 76ers won for the second time in four games as they held onto a big lead at home to beat the Washington Wizards 109-102.
Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said there was “just a poise level that was fantastic.”
The 76ers shot 54.5 percent and had 30 assists (on 42 field goals), both season highs.
“Just resilient,” forward Richaun Holmes said. “Just determined to do anything we had to do to get a win, and we are able to stick it out to the end against a tough Washington team. We’re getting better.”
Holmes knocked down a 3-pointer in the final minutes to help finish off the Wizards on Wednesday. Jahlil Okafor scored a season-high 19 points before fouling out. Philadelphia rested rookie center Joel Embiid, its leading scorer and rebounder who missed the past two seasons following a pair of foot surgeries.
Embiid is expected to play Thursday. Brown will have both of his young centers at his disposal. Okafor is expected to play and be limited to 16 to 20 minutes.
“It was my teammates talking to me, Coach Brown challenging me before the game to attack, be aggressive, make good decisions; and it really benefited me,” Okafor said.
Embiid’s absence for the home game before leaving for a road trip caught some by surprise.
“It’s just the rhythm that the medical staff has put him on,” Brown said. “And I think you look back — back-to-back-type games and those types of things, with the time in between, they felt like … if we had a choice, this game was going to be it. So I follow the marching orders of smarter people than myself.”
Embiid will be needed on the road at Minnesota. The 76ers have lost 20 straight games on the road, equaling the second-longest road slump in team history.
Okafor should match up occasionally with Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns was drafted No. 1 overall by Minnesota last year, with Okafor picked third by Philadelphia. Towns has lived up to the top-draft status and is averaging 22 points and eight rebounds per game this season.
However, Towns took Tuesday’s loss to Charlotte particularly tough.
“I just have to play better,” Towns said. “All these losses, they fall on me. It’s something I’ve got to control. It’s something that I’ve got to be able to help us as much as possible. Third quarter, I’m just not doing enough for us, and I’ve got to do better.”
Minnesota is the league’s top-scoring team in the first quarter but the worst in the third period. The Timberwolves were outscored 36-17 in the third by the Hornets.
Thibodeau was asked if Tuesday’s loss was a step back for his young team.
“It’s the commitment to improve and to learn, to not repeat the same mistakes over and over again,” Thibodeau said. “A big part of learning is trial and error, so when you go through something and it doesn’t work, you should learn from it; the second time around, it shouldn’t be the same way. That has to change. That has to change, and it has to change fast.”
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