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PHILADELPHIA — Ben Simmons was rummaging through his locker looking for a pair of shoes he misplaced before Tuesday night’s matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Eventually, he gave up and handed the duty over to an equipment manager. In what appeared to be boredom, Simmons cleared the diameter of the room with two of his uniquely long strides and hopped on a scale.
“Ooo, 250. Damn,” Simmons said to himself (and within earshot).
The Philadelphia point guard has apparently added what looks like 20 pounds of muscle since his measurements were submitted to the Sixers media guide.
Simmons is listed at 6’10” and 230 pounds.
And in a normal basketball game, when one would look for an explanation as to why — or better yet, how — one team could blow out another by 42 points, overwhelming physicality would be one reason that would make sense.
But, well, this wasn’t a normal game.
Yes, physically the Sixers dominated the Timberwolves who played the little brother role. Minnesota surrendered 50 points in the first 14 minutes of the game and looked straight-up unable to get anywhere near the hoop if a Sixer was in their way when they tried to score themselves. But it wasn’t just the physicality that dominated them. No, worse, it was the mental side of the game. They weren’t ready for this game.
“That ain’t no normal game. Them dudes got our head,” said Minnesota’s point guard, Jeff Teague. “Jimmy wanted to beat us. We all know that. Joel Embiid wanna beat KAT. That ain’t no normal game. There is nothing normal about that game. That was a game we all had marked and they dogged us.”
In a game the Wolves had the opportunity to respond to how Jimmy Butler seemingly punked them this fall, they did the opposite: they got punked, again. As Teague alluded to, the real estate not only Butler but Embiid and Simmons own in the Wolves player’s heads is vast and expanding.
“They a good team,” Teague continued. “But they 40 points better than us? Yeah, right. They got some good players, but hell no. We just didn’t compete.”
To allow any three players — even if they are All-Star caliber — to drop 70 points on you while they only miss 12 combined shots, as the Sixers’ trio did, speaks to something bigger than a simple talent discrepancy. No, the Wolves didn’t bring it. They didn’t bring anything.
“That’s mostly how you get your ass kicked in the NBA. And that’s what we did,” said Karl-Anthony Towns who scored 13 points (his lowest total since Butler was traded) and only gathered three rebounds (tying a career-low).
Since Towns’ rookie season, only once had he scored fewer than 15 points in a game while also having fewer than five rebounds — and that was a game he was ejected from. To see Towns all but remove himself from this game was probably the most disappointing byproduct of a loss that will linger. Almost everything that has transpired since Butler was removed from the equation in November has suggested a freeing of sorts for Towns. He was fresh off a career-high rebounding night (27) and, better yet, had been averaging 27.5 points, 16.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.8 blocks over the most recent ten game span — six of which the Wolves had won.
“We follow KAT, this is his team,” said Teague “It’s Wig’s team (too) and trickles down from there. But this is their team and we go as they go. We gonna get them the ball, and we just expect them to be dogs.”
Teague was quick to assert that Towns has been a dog and that Wiggins had been playing well too. The greater point was if those two aren’t there and engaged that night, no one is there to fill in.
In other words: Jimmy is gone.
Points scored certainly isn’t everything but in the six games Towns scored fewer than 13 points a year ago, the Wolves still won four of those games, often on the back of Butler. Since the trade, the Wolves are 3-5 in the eight games Towns has scored fewer than 20.
“They scored close to 150 points; it’s more than just communication. It was us,” said Towns noticeably fidgeting at his locker after the game. “Coach got a great gameplan, gave us something great to work with. We just didn’t lock in and care at all.”
Ryan Saunders was flummoxed in what was obviously the most lopsided game of his short coaching career. Postgame he spoke of the unique challenge Philadelphia’s size presents and that coupling that with seemingly zero communication on his team’s part is a recipe for disaster. However, between the lines, you could read that Saunders knew something was awry in this game.
“The game, it got away from us,” Saunders said.
It’s a game Teague said he would like to forget and hope that everyone else forgets too.
“I thought this ’bout to be one of those games that was going to be played back on NBATV or something,” he said almost laughing. “That’s the kinda game I thought it was going to be. Hopefully, they don’t play it back on NBATV.”
It’s not that one forgettable loss should change the way a team is thought of. A bad blip doesn’t take away from the truth that Towns is still playing the best basketball of his career and that the Wolves are lingering in the playoff hunt, despite all of the chaos that includes their best defender (Robert Covington) being hurt. On some level, a dismal outing like this does need to go in one ear and out the other.
This can’t linger.
The Wolves play four of the final seven games of January at home, and two of the three road games are against the struggling Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers. Winning five or even six of those games isn’t out of the question. Unfortunately, doing so may be mandated if they want to stay in the playoff hunt when trade deadline rolls around February 7th.
Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Anthony Tolliver are all 30 years old or older and they all are on expiring contracts. This truth makes all three candidates to be traded if the Wolves turn into sellers. Teague, who has a $19 million player option on his deal for next season, falls in a similar club. Which means it’s time to circle every game.
“I think the rest of the season probably circled for us. Shit, we tryin’ to make the playoffs,” said Teague who has never missed the playoffs in his 10-year career. “We just gotta be a rugged team, we can’t be a pretty team. Right now, we a pretty team, and pretty gets you beat by 40.”