Sixers defense smothers the Timberwolves

One could imagine Friday's game between the 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves being a future NBA Finals matchup - in 2021 or so.

At least that is what both franchises hope.

There is the prevailing thought that a team in the NBA has to sink to the bottom before vaulting back to the top.

The Sixers have done it on purpose. The Wolves didn't actually plan it quite this way, but they have been decimated by injuries.

Putting together a strong second half, especially on the defensive end, the Sixers scored a 103-94 win over the Wolves on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center.

It's the first time the Sixers have hit the century mark since a 120-115 overtime loss to visiting Memphis on Dec. 13.

Michael Carter-Williams had a triple-double, 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Luc Mbah a Moute scored 18 points.

"I think I am relaxing a little bit when we get in trouble and the other team gets on a run and I keep my composure and try not to do it all myself and kind of let things happen instead of trying to force it a little," Carter-Williams said.

Former Sixer Thaddeus Young had 10 points and five turnovers in a less-than stellar homecoming.

"Tonight we weren't clicking at all defensively," Young said.

The Sixers shot 37 for 74 from the field (50 percent) backing up that statement.

A 25-17 fourth-quarter edge helped improve the Sixers record to 10-37. Remember, they were 0-17 before their first win on Dec. 3 at Minnesota.

Before the game, Sixers coach Brett Brown talked about the matchup in the pivot between slim center Nerlens Noel and the Wolves burly Nikola Pekovic.

"Nerlens is going to give up what, 325 pounds," Brown cracked.

Noel beat Pekovic down the floor for a few early transition points but defending the 295-pound center, who had about a 75-pound edge on the Sixers rookie, proved to be difficult in the early going.

Pekovic ended with 18 points, only two coming in the second half. He took no shots in the fourth quarter, which helps explain why the Wolves have an 8-38 record.

"In the second half, we did a much better job putting more ball pressure and it wasn't easy passing to the post and it was a great overall team effort," Noel said.

Noel ended with 14 points (7 of 8 from the field), six rebounds and six blocked shots. In his previous three games he scored 14 points total.

The Wolves haven't played with point guard Ricky Rubio since a Nov. 7 ankle injury and on Friday were without their second point guard Mo Williams, bothered by hip soreness.

They were limited to just 35 second-half points.

This was the first Philadelphia appearance of NBA first overall draft choice Andrew Wiggins, a player the Sixers didn't hide their affinity for a year ago.

Wiggins would likely have to suffer a free-fall worse than his team's to surrender his grip on the rookie-of-the year award.

He scored 15 points, the 20th straight game he has been in double figures, but shot just 7 for 17.

Thus it created one statement that hasn't been uttered very much recently - the Sixers have swept the season series from Minnesota.

The last series sweep was over the Sacramento Kings in 2012-13.

The Sixers have won consecutive home games for the first time since the first two home games of 2013-14. They hope in the future that these aren't monumental achievements, but for now, they are savoring all wins.

Return trip. The emotion really hit Thaddeus Young when he arrived at his hotel Thursday night. The Timberwolves forward said he was greeted by countless fans as he prepared for his first trip back to Philadelphia as an ex-76er.

"At the hotel, the people received me and said they missed me and it's been crazy," Young said before Friday's game.

Young was gratified by a gesture done by the Sixers, who framed three of his old Philadelphia jerseys and had them waiting for him in the Timberwolves locker.

 

 


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard